The sight of mistletoe may either send you scurrying or, if you have your eye on someone, awaiting an opportunity beneath its snow-white berries. But how did the festive tradition of kissing under mistletoe come about? Carlos Reif explains how this long-lived custom intertwines the mythology and biology of this intriguing plant.







  • to scurry – move hurriedly with short quick steps
  • to have your eye on someone – to be trying to start a romantic relationship with someone
  • to come about – to happen
  • to interwine – to join or become joined by twining (pairing) together
  • priesthood – the whole body of priests
  • to  bestow – to give (as an honour or present)
  • fertility – the natural capability to produce children
  • oversight – an unintentional omission or error
  • to mandate – to give official permission for something to happen
  • parasitic – relating to, or being a parasite (living on another organism)
  • draped – loosely covered with
  • to siphon off – to suck or draw off a liquid from or out of something
  • to disperse – to cause to become spread widely
  • to excrete – to eliminate from an organic body as waste
  • to germinate – to (cause a seed to) start growing
  • juniper – an evergreen bush with purple berries which can be used in cooking and medicine
  • to sprout – to begin to grow

Answer the following questions:

Why were the ancient Europeans so fascinated by mistletoe?

What is the Scandinavian legend of the god Baldr and his mother Frigg about?

How did the mistletoe-hanging tradition spread from Europe into America?

Why is mistletoe a parasitic plant?

How does the plant colonize nearby trees with its seeds?

How does mistletoe help ecosystems to flourish?

Why has mistletoe the power to bring things together?



Practice Makes Perfect

Fill in the gaps in the sentences below with some of the words/phrases in Glossary. Make sure their grammatical form is correct:


  1. The country’s highest medal was ………….. upon him for bravery.
  2. She took her children by the hand and ………….. off.
  3. I’m afraid there was a major ………….. in your plan.
  4. Can you explain how the whole thing …………… ?
  5. He has ……… his …….. on Mary for some time now.
  6. …………….. are also a serious cause of cancer in animals.
  7. The net is made of cotton ……………. with other natural fibres.
  8. When it started to rain the crowds started to ………… .


 ANSWERS: 1.bestowed; 2. scurried; 3. oversight; 4. came about; 5. had (his) eye; 6. parasites; 7. intertwined; 8. disperse




  • Do you decorate your house with mistletoe during Christmas?
  • When do you start decorating a Christmas tree?
  • What other traditions do you cherish?
  • What do you usually do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?
  • Is it important to buy presents at Christmas?
  • Is there anything stressful about this time?
  • Would you like to spend Christmas in another country?


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