For Bing Crosby, it was a holiday symbol as iconic as snow and presents under the tree. Toby Keith blamed it for his Christmas indiscretions. And Justin Bieber would rather be under it than playing in the snow. I'm talking about mistletoe, of course! This time of year, these evergreen branches inspire joy and love all over the world.
Mistletoe grows on willow and apple trees, and its association with the holidays dates back to the ancient Druids, who believed it would bring good luck and deter evil spirits. Norse mythology also pegged this plant as a symbol of love and friendship, but kissing under the mistletoe is an English custom. For generations, mistletoe has been a vital component of the traditional British "Kissing Bough", which also incorporates other evergreen plants like ivy, holly, and fir.
When you buy fresh mistletoe at the farmers' market, hang it up as soon as possible, within a day or two at the latest. Over time it will dry out, but it should last for several weeks. While it's on display, be prepared to pucker up; according to popular holiday tradition, it's open season to kiss whoever stands under it.
Mistletoe berries can range from transparent white to slightly pink. In some instances these berries are poisonous, so consider removing them before hanging your mistletoe up at home. No one wants to spend the holidays in the emergency room!