On a Parasite

Why would you purposefully bring a parasite into your home?

Yet, many of us do so, every year. This is a parasite that infests trees where bird droppings have deposited the seeds of the parasites. The invasive species then saps water and nutrients from the tree it leeches from. Apparently, it gets its name from a combination of two Anglo-Saxon words for “dung” and “stick.”


To be fair, the Ancient Greeks and Romans used the parasite as medicine. They believed it could be used as a treatment for everything from epilepsy to possession to dealing with menstrual cramps. Yet, even they recognized that they were dealing with a parasite.

And, for some reason, many of us in the modern world have adopted this as a part of our lives, at least for a few weeks out of the year. Well, the ancient Celtic tribes did it first, it seems. They get the credit in some circles for being the ones who began the tradition to bring the parasite into their homes in the winter. The fact that it was thriving when the trees it was mooching off of had lost their leaves made the Celts believe that this thing had magical, special, life-giving properties that they came to admire and covet. The myth sprang up that it brought luck to those homes into which it was brought, and some believed that it had the power to ward off evil spirits.

While some Christians felt it was wrong to include a “pagan” Celtic ritual in their homes, it seems that, at least in northern and western Europe, the tradition continued into the Christian era. It was in the Georgian Era in England when a song about the parasite popularized and added to the mystique behind the practice of bringing it into homes during the winter. In fact, many songs refer to this parasite in a positive way–songs that you sing to this day. You see, the song from the 1780s said that, along with the other positive aspects (the magic, the life-affirming element, the luck, the anti-evil spirit thing) of bringing it into a home, there was one more thing that could insure luck to someone.

That was if you would kiss someone while standing under the parasite. And, for the past 250 years, we have followed this tradition of kissing at Christmas.

You know this parasite as mistletoe.


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