The custom of kissing under the mistletoe during the holidays is the culmination of the blending of several cultural traditions over the span of thousands of years.
A short history of mistletoe.
Mistletoe is an evergreen plant that only grows on the branches of other trees. It’s partially parasitic and feeds on the water and nutrients of its host tree. The images of mistletoe you often see with red berries and spiky leaves are actually holly. Mistletoe has soft, round leaves and most commonly has sticky white berries, though some species have red berries as well. It was considered sacred by ancient Celtic, Norse, and Roman cultures and was especially revered during the winter months when patches of mistletoe remained the only greenery on otherwise bare trees. Check out this TED-Ed video for the origin story of mistletoe complete with cute animations.
Mistletoe and Paganism.
Beliefs vary across traditions, but like pine trees and the Holly King, mistletoe is sacred as an evergreen when all other plants are bare. It’s a plant of love, with its red and white berries symbolizing the union and fertility of our goddess (red) and god (white). I have a mistletoe ball up in my apartment right now as part of our Yule decorations. If you’re doing Yule shopping, check out my article on the best Yule gifts for pagans and Wiccans.
Mistletoe and Christianity.
As our ancestors converted to Christianity, they brought their folk holiday traditions with them, including mistletoe. It wasn’t until the 18th century in England that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe became tied to Christmas. The original tradition was that you could kiss anyone standing under mistletoe (it was bad luck for them to refuse) and then you would remove a berry from the mistletoe. Once all the berries were gone, no more kissing.
Use mistletoe’s powers for good.
Mistletoe is a fun way to request some affection from your significant other or get that extra hug from your family around the holidays. It’s a beautiful tradition of coming together that hasn’t always been used in the most respectful way. Thankfully, today we know that coercing anyone to kiss for any reason is completely unacceptable. The holiday spirit does not give this a pass. This season, if you see someone carrying around mistletoe or wearing it anywhere on their person to try to pressure people into holiday kisses–speak up and tell them that it’s not okay. Sure, it’s called a kissing ball, but mistletoe stands for loving unity, which is, by default, consensual.
If you’re looking for other holiday decorations see my guides to the best pencil Christmas trees, best outdoor reindeer decorations, best Christmas mailbox decorations, best tabletop Christmas trees, best Christmas balls for your tree, and best Yule log decorations and cake pans.
Isn’t it poisonous?
Yes, mistletoe berries are poisonous, though not as poisonous as was thought 20 years ago. Still, if you’ve got kids or pets (fur-kids) who could get their hands on your real mistletoe, it would still make them feel very ill and have some serious digestive upset. That’s why all the mistletoe decorations I’ve chosen are artificial. Just to be safe.
1. Hanging Mistletoe Kissing Ball With White Berries
This kissing ball is made of realistic artificial mistletoe frosted for a glittering icy look. The white berries have their signature black dot, a detail that less realistic pieces often miss. It’s six inches across which is a perfect medium size for a kissing ball–not overwhelmingly big, but definitely noticeable. A green ribbon is attached for easy hanging. Because you achieve that gorgeous wintry look by using glitter, you do have to expect a little bit of glitter fallout. It’s the holiday season so glitter and pine needles are pretty much unavoidable. Totally worth it.
2. Ganz Mistletoe Kissing Ball
If you’re all in for glitter, this beautiful kissing ball from Ganz is where you want to be. It features plastic greenery and red mistletoe berries. Gold glitter makes this a festive, glitzy decoration. The mistletoe branches extend out from the ball in spots giving it a more realistic and rustic look. Gold organza ribbon provides a loop to hang your kissing ball and also decorates the top of ball. This type of ribbon will need to get fluffed out a bit after shipping. At seven inches in diameter, this is a nice size kissing ball. Ganz also offers a similar style seven to eight inch kissing ball if you’re looking for something more dramatic.
3. Arcadia Home Hand Felted Wool Mistletoe Ball
This is most similar to the one I have and love. It’s made from 100 percent sustainable wool and is hand felted into the bright, round mistletoe leaves and white berries. There’s no glitter to deal with on this one, and although it isn’t sparkly, it still gives a dramatic effect. It’s not something people expect. It looks touchably soft and cozy. Being felt means this ball will last you long time. It can handle being stuffed into a box of decorations without snapping and can fluff back out the next year. I’ve been pretty rough on mine through several moves and it’s still going strong. The kissing ball comes on a festive red loop for hanging.
4. Kissing Krystal Mistletoe Ornament
Why have a kissing ball if you can have a kissing crystal? This mistletoe decoration has gold glitter covered plastic mistletoe leaves with red berries covered in red glitter–all perched on top of an acrylic crystal. The crystal is cut like a diamond so it will reflect sunlight. It’s smaller than the others on here with a 4.5 inch diameter at its widest. That’s a good size if space is limited or you’re looking for something more discreet but still elegant. Because of the crystal, this one is heavier so if you have little children who might be able to grab at this, just keep in mind that this is much harder and heavier than others.
Price: $12.95 (14 percent off MSRP)
5. Sullivans 12 Inch Felt Mistletoe Sprig
If you really liked the look of the felted mistletoe but don’t have the cash to throw down for the kissing ball, consider this felted mistletoe spring. The felted leaves are two tones of green and even have details like the veins of leaves visible in the wool. The white berries are attached to a central brown “branch” and the whole thing has a wire center so you can bend and pose it to the position you like. Also the leaves have glitter so you get the best of both worlds: felt and sparkles. It has a twine-colored loop for hanging and a deep red bow at the top of the spring. The whole thing is 12 inches long and about six inches across. This would work great against a wall too as it’s much flatter than the others.