The rules of mistletoe

Under a sprig of mistletoe, a man must kiss the nearest lady only on the cheek. Once the kissing is done, a berry must be removed from the mistletoe. When all of the berries are gone, the mistletoe has lost its kiss-compelling powers!

Who knew there were rules to the mistletoe game? This changes everything.

Well, maybe not everything.  But it is interesting.  And it is also just a little pre-blog aside, as the real point of this post is to chat about in situ mistletoe – not our goofy antics once it is picked, bundled, hung and then noticed in a fit of giggling.

Right. And with that in mind, have you ever wondered where mistletoe comes from?

Yeah, me neither.

But the holiday season is upon us, and in France that means non-stop Marches de Noel. And I mean non-stop in the French sense (reasonably scheduled for 10-6 on December weekends) not in the American sense (24/7 since July).

As a biologist with botanical tendencies, I cannot help but pass by the foliage lined booths stocked with artificially scented pinecones, wreathes and – of course – mistletoe in neat little sprays bound with red ribbons.

Now, I think most of us as kids have been out collecting holly and spruce boughs to decorate the front door. But has anyone ever collected mistletoe? No. Definitely not in North America anyway, and I would guess that mistletoe harvesting in Europe is also left to the professionals.

Fast-forward to Christmas season 2014 in France: I am alone, without any carols or lights and going for a walk in the unseasonably extended autumn weather. It distinctly is not beginning to feel much like Christmas. But then, I look up and there it is, the sign of budding holiday love! Giant, looming balls of it, ripe for the picking.

I bet you didn’t know that mistletoe is in fact the bushy European epiphyte Viscum album which belongs to my new favourite plant order: Santalales. For now I am just going to assume the order was named after Santa.

And when you’re walking in the French countryside on a grey December day, look just past the football fields and you might spot some:


So the next time you want to pull someone in for a culturally-condoned kiss you don’t need to wait for Christmas – just take a walk in the woods. Just don’t forget to climb up and remove one of the berries afterwards.

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