Kissing under "dung-on-a-twig"

The Christmas tree stands opened the weekend before Thanksgiving, holiday music started playing earlier than some of us would have chosen to hear it.

I guess you can say that the hype is on.

We don’t need any more reminders of what to buy for whom or when to ship it out. What we need are some deep breaths, a few good giggles and a broad smile to lessen the holiday stress.

Some of our favorite Christmas decorations are steeped in tradition and folklore. We cling to them as reminders of family and past experiences, but we may not know “the rest of the story.”

Think about the romantic tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Would a kiss stolen under the mistletoe be as romantic if it were called what it is — a parasite? I don’t think the image in a romantic novel of “our first kiss was under the parasite” would carry you on to the next sentence.

There are myriad of folktales involving mistletoe taken from the Norse, Greek, Roman and druid mythology. My favorite is one I have had in my files for years, which unfortunately wasn’t sourced at the time but it is worth sharing.

The myth that I have on file is that the common name of the plant is derived from the ancient belief that mistletoe was propagated from bird droppings. This belief was related to the then -accepted principle that life could spring spontaneously from dung.

It was observed in ancient times that mistletoe would often appear on a branch or twig where birds left droppings.

According to the myth, mistel is the Anglo-Saxon word for dung and tan is the word for twig. So, mistletoe means “dung-on-a-twig.”

By the 16th century, botanists discovered that the parasite was spread by seeds that passed through the digestive tract of birds. Botanists observed that sticky seeds tended to cling to the bills of birds. When the birds cleaned their bills my rubbing them against the branches or bark of trees the seeds were further scattered.

No winter plant carries as much mystique and folklore as the mistletoe. Eventually, centuries later, mistletoe found its way back into acceptance as a symbol of love, romance and good luck.

Mistletoe is a parasitic green plant with yellowish flowers and waxy white berries that grows on deciduous trees, mainly oak. The roots penetrate through the tree bark into the wood, robbing the host tree of water and nutrients. Lovely and mystical as it seems, it can be a problem. And, no, the parasitic yellow-green growth you see in the junipers is not the same as the growth in oak trees and sometimes, apple trees.

More times than not, holly is mentioned in the same breath as mistletoe, so here are a few fun facts to add to holiday party conversations.

In Wales, family quarrels are thought to occur if holly is brought into the house prior to Christmas Eve. If decorations are left up beyond New Year’s or the 12th night, it is said that a misfortune will occur for each leaf and branch remaining.

Some observe the tradition of placing little lighted candles on holly leaves and floating them on water. If they float, it is a sign that the project that the person has in mind at the time will prosper, but if they sink it is as well to abandon it.

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