Actually I never realized the ugly balls hanging off of the dead trees driving west were mistletoe balls. Walking through the desert, the mesquite was succumbing to clumps of mistletoe. All I ever knew of mistletoe was the tiny twig of greenery hanging from a light fixture or the center of the door frame at a party and guests stopping to kiss to everyone’s cheers.
It really is a parasite, and in prior centuries was a symbol of fertility, dating back to the Druids in the 1st century A.D. The plant has been linked to the Romans, who used it to represent peace, love, and understanding of life. Mistletoe is also linked to Norse mythology when Balder, the son of a Norse god, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.
The kissing tradition began in 18th century England, mentioned in Christmas songs and poems. In the United States it was mentioned by Washington Irving in “Old Christmas” a 19th century book capturing holiday traditions. Mistletoe is now an significant symbol of the holiday season, finding its way into movies and songs.