Kissed under the mistletoe? Gross! The not-so romantic origins of a holiday staple

The sad truth about mistletoe is that it grows parasitically on trees. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Kissing under the mistletoe is usually thought of as a romantic tradition associated with the holidays.

But whoever started that tradition possibly didn’t know all the facts about the plant.

The sad truth about mistletoe is that it grows parasitically on trees. It tends to spring from bird droppings that have fallen on trees after those birds have digested the seeds.

The word mistletoe is derived from Anglo-Saxon: It’s made up of parts that translate to “dung” (the “mistle” part) and “twig.” So, mistletoe basically translates to “poop twig.”

That’s a bit of trivia that Debbie Waugh likes to relate during Christmas tea at Green Spring Gardens. Waugh, the Alexandria gardens’ historic house coordinator, said the custom of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe was popularized in the Victorian era.

“In those days, after a young couple had kissed under the mistletoe, they had to take one of the little white berries from the plant,” she said, adding that “once all the berries were gone, then the mistletoe lost all of its magical powers.”

So, there was magic … as well as poop.

Sandy Kozel

Sandy Kozel is an anchor at WTOP. She came to WTOP after a long career as an anchor/correspondent with the Associated Press. She also worked in local radio in the Cleveland area — and in Buffalo, where she was an award-winning anchor and reporter with WGR Radio and entertainment reporter at WGRZ-TV.

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