Beyond the presents, ornaments and cookies, Christmas offers the magic of mistletoe. By simply standing in the right place, you signal to those near to you a desire for a kiss. The tradition is unsubtle and proactive, and it brings a little naughty into this decidedly G-rated holiday.
Over Thanksgiving, I went on a mistletoe hunt with friends in North Carolina. I was surprised to learn that you didn't just hunt for the green leaves at your local Christmas supply store. Mistletoe grows in pecan, oak and apple trees across the country. It is a hemi-parasite, which means it roots beneath the bark of the host tree, and is able to create its own food through photosynthesis. Birds spread the plant by ingesting the seeds and transporting them from tree to tree.
Since mistletoe grows in the high branches, beyond the reach of a ladder, you can either climb the tree and cut it down, or grab a gun and shoot it down.
Most folks pick the latter. Since I do not own a shotgun, my pal Theresa Galletto offered to bring her daddy's 12-gauge. Theresa is an experienced skeet shooter and a professional golf pro, so I felt confident that she'd hit the mark.
Tools of the hunt
And then we needed a tree. Theresa lives in a development that is home to many retired Northerners, and has rules against things like shooting at trees.
But luckily, she knew a man from around these parts, a born and bred coastal Carolinian. Billy Robinson's home is on the same land his family has owned for decades, and he has lived here for almost 80 years. He likes to tell stories about the past, like the time his daddy sold 100 acres for $1,000 and laughed at the man who bought them. On Billy's land, Billy makes the rules.
The pecan tree in his front yard was dripping with mistletoe, so he invited us to take a shot. Theresa took the gun from its case, and snapped it together with her eyes shut.
Mistletoe grows in pecan, oak and apple trees across the country.
She aimed at branches more than 50 feet in the air and hit them with ease. After seven shots, the hunt was over; Theresa had bagged enough mistletoe to keep the town kissing through the New Year.
It was curious to me that such a romantic plant required such a violent harvest. But perhaps that's just my Yankee bias showing. Guns don't always mean bloodshed, sometimes they're just the best way to get the job done.
If you would like your own fresh mistletoe, without the trip to North Carolina (though I can vouch for the local hospitality), you can purchase it online. Try
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