the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Mistletoe 101 for Jews


Happy Hannukah!   Thanks for the emails wishing me a happy holiday.   As  a Jew, I like Hanukkah, but at the same time I realize that it is a fairly minor holiday blown out of proportion to compete with Christmas.   Jews have been treated like shit in so many countries  throughout their history, that we are truly lucky to live in a country where the populace actually acknowledges our little holiday.

I’m pretty confident in my Jewishness that I don’t feel threatened by a Christmas season that seems to start the minute you eat your last bite of stuffing at Thanksgiving.  I can enjoy the carols and the festivities without feeling the need to convert or praise Jesus.   I know some Jews have “Christmas” trees in their houses, but I wouldn’t go that far, just because that seems a bit too much of “wanting to be part of the crowd,” like wearing a Von Dutch cap because you saw Justin Timberlake wearing one on Entertainment Tonight.  The Pope may wear what looks like a yarmulke, but I doubt he is at home lighting his menorah.

Just like Jews worry about the influence of Christmas on their kids, some Christians worry that they can’t celebrate their holiday as openly as they would like to.   I’m still reading bloggers grumbling about the use of “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.”  Frankly, this issue is so 2005.

I’m all for Christians enjoying their religious holiday.  It doesn’t bother me if someone says “Merry Christmas.”  It DOES bother me that most of the complainers about the “War on Christmas” come from conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson.  Their interest in Christmas has more to do with politics than religion.  It is all part of a family values agenda.  Pushing for the public display of Christmas goes hand-in-hand with conservative ideology against the rights of other minorities, such as gays and women.  Whenever I read a 20-something talking how much he hates being politically-correct over Merry Christmas, I know this person is going to end up being a suburban “family values” person who watches FOX news every night.

Janet at The Art of Getting By wrote an amusing piece about how much it must “suck to be Jewish during Christmas.”  Personally, I don’t like eggnog, so I am jealous of the mistletoe.  Like being part of the “mile-high club,” kissing under the mistletoe is one of my unfulfilled fantasies.  Just in case I find myself at a Christmas Party this year, what exactly are the “rules.”  Can you kiss anyone standing under the mistletoe?  Do you HAVE to kiss the person?  What happens if she has a cold sore?  Can you bring someone under the mistletoe under false pretenses, just to kiss her —

Neil:  “Come here, Anne, I want to show you this new coffee maker in the kitchen.  Tricked you!  We’re under the mistletoe!  Give me your tongue!”

Washington Irving, famed early 19th Century writer, helped popularize the mistletoe tradition to Americans in “Christmas Eve” —

Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon; the Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.

The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.

Hot cockles!  Kissing the Girls!  Plucking Berries from the Bush!

Now you know why Jews are really jealous about Christmas.  Kissing under the mistletoe.  If you try kissing someone over the menorah, you just get your hair on fire.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  LL Cool Jew (more Jews!)


  1. V-Grrrl

    Hmmmm, mistletoe. You know it’s a parasitic plant that grows in huge balls (ahem) on other trees, usually near the tops. My brothers used to go into the woods on the farm and attempt to shoot down a sprig or two but I never remember it actually being hung in our house. Maybe they saved it to use on their girlfriends/wives. I don’t think I’ve ever been taken under the mistletoe, but the Christmas tree, that’s another story….

  2. Lynnster

    And a Happy Hanukkah season to you, Neil.

    Sure, you can kiss anyone under the mistletoe. In your case, I would probably make sure they’re female first, as I don’t think you would enjoy the alternative so much… 😉

    Good Sunday to you, sir!

  3. BA

    I must admit, I too am jealous of the mistletoe. I’ve been tempted to put some on a spring and attach it to a headband. Instantly, it’s always right above you!

  4. Ari (Baking and Books)

    Chag sameach Neil!

  5. Tatyana

    You read my mind?

  6. Pearl

    Dreidels & chocolate gelt (money coins), and yummy potato latkes fried in oil galore, and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) with icing sugar coatging them.
    What could be better than that!?
    Happy Chanukah, Neil, Sophia & Mama Kramer.

  7. Hilly

    One of my best friends growing up had a Jewish father and Christian mother. They never decided that my friend would be one faith or the other, rather wait for her to grow up and decide. Let me tell you, she had the best of both holiday worlds ;). Here is what kills me about the story…she chose Judaism in high school but now, I hear she is with the “Jews for Jesus”….ironic.


  8. Edgy Mama

    Mistletoe can be messy, though. Often, it’s full of bugs and it sheds berries that get stepped on and crushed into the carpet. See, there’s a con to everything.

    My eight-year-old came home the other day asking if we could celebrate Chanakah (how the hell do you spell that word, anyway?). I said no, as we celebrate enough holidays already. Well, I have a dreidl, she said. As if that was a good reason. Turns out she just wants the chocolate coins now and doesn’t want to wait until Santa leaves some in her stocking!

  9. Karla

    Happy Hannukah to my favorite Jew!

  10. Alison

    Happy Hanukkah, Neil.

  11. Churlita

    Happy Hanukkah!

    I may have been more interested in organized religion in general, had I known there were hot cockles involved.

  12. Doctor Bean

    Neil & Sophia: Happy Hannuka!

  13. Nics

    Happy Hannukah and Nollaig Shona Daoibh to everyone!

  14. Neil

    Nics, Nollaig Mhaith Chugat!

  15. kristen

    With my conversion fast approaching, the double celebration of Christmas (from my side) and Hannukah (my husband’s) has come to a screeching halt. No tree in this house this year, even if it’s decorated in blue and white. At my final conversion meeting, when we were discussing what I need to do for the Beth Din, it was reiterated that those not allowed to convert are the ones that can’t give up Jesus (not a problem, never had him) and the Christmas tree. Up until that point, I’d been planning on getting a tree, but the guilt I was consumed with won and so, no tree. I sort of feel like Charlotte from Sex and the City, when she looked at her Christmas decorations with wistfulness.

  16. Erin

    This wednesday is also the day that I will be starring in an episode of Modern Marvels. (On the History Channel, 9pm) K, starring is a strong word. I think I’ll appear for about 15 seconds. 15 sweaty, twitchy seconds…. So watch it and then you can send me an email telling be about how sweaty I look. 🙂

    And, if you want to hear all my Christmas songs, go to 🙂

  17. Miss Syl

    “Come here, Anne, I want to show you this new coffee maker in the kitchen. Tricked you! We’re under the mistletoe! Give me your tongue!”

    See, this is why the whole mistletoe thing is lost on Jews. You say, “Give me your tongue” to a Jew, and we’re likely to hand you a deli sandwich.

    Happy Chanukah, Neileleh.

  18. Becky

    The part about the political right wing trying to make this a huge “war for christmas?” You are completely on the money. It’s all a sham and a shame. Happy holidays and seasons greetings to you all. Celebrate however you do with all abandon and joy.

  19. joe

    Did you ask for some balls for Chanukah?

  20. JanePoe (aka Deborah)

    Yeah, we’ve trimmed the tree, bought too many presents, and can’t seem to find our stash of Christmas CDs … however, my husband made sure to hang the mistletoe in the entryway to the kitchen! We’re not a religious lot in this household … smooching and presents (all sorts!) is bringing plent of holiday cheer! Love the pic of the puppy! Happy Hannukah, Neil! Cheers, JP

  21. Irina

    “…goes hand-in-hand with conservative ideology against the rights of other minorities, such as gays and women.”

    LOL, since when are women a minority?! : )

    Happy Chanukkah!

  22. Bice

    >kissing someone over the menorah, you just get your hair on fire.

    Then get a bigger yarmulke, maybe an XL.

  23. rdl

    Happy Hanukah!! We do both and it’s a bit much – i keep threatening to do Kwanza too, but don’t know what to do and have my hands full with the 2. My fantasy is to skip it.

  24. Janet

    Mistlestoe is actually something that gets worked into the Christmas budget before anything important. The house is a regular obstacle course. I host a lot of parties.

  25. Mist 1

    I wear flammable hair products. Perhaps that’s why I never get invited to Hannakah parties.

  26. Alexandra

    Hmm, I just got off the phone with my mom who was telling me she wishes I didn’t have a Christmas tree being that I am Jewish and all, and I was trying to explain to her that its not trying to be “part of the crowd” and all, its just a very cool opportunity to decorate and have a live tree in the house filled with sparkly stuff full of color, and that if we Jews would branch out a bit and have more holiday decorations that weren’t in the icky blue/silver/white scheme I’d be totally open to that! But alas, thats not the case and I am nearly glazed over with love as I view my twinkling white lights on the tree as I type. I do have a menorah too though!

  27. mariemm3

    Happy Hanukkah Neil.

    I have one correction to make. According to my Macy’s and Robinson May calendars, Christmas started the minute Halloween decorations came down. Do you want a copy of them?

    Dreidels & chocolate gelt sound yummy! Can I celebrate both holidays without the religion getting in the way?

  28. mckay

    HH, neil.

    mistletoe. i’m all for any excuse to smooch. spin the bottle is another favorite :0)

    alas, i have no idea how to record and upload a christmas carol. i’m just not that internet savvy. sigh. if i were, you’d hear me singing mele kalikimaka ala bette midler. love her!

  29. Amy K

    This shiksa loves Hanukkah at her best friend’s house. Last night we lit the menorah and had amazing latkes along with brisket and red cabbage. Happy Hanukkah to you!

  30. mrsmogul

    I saw a jar of GILFILITE fish yesterday and thought of you 🙂

  31. margaret

    Happy Hanukkah, Neil

  32. kapgar

    That dog is Jewish? I never would’ve guessed.

  33. Janet

    Happy Hannukah to you, no matter how the hell you spell it!:)

  34. sarah

    mistletoe rules; havent found any rules thus far. and if you add alcohol then the numbers really can add up under the mistletoe; as in a line can form. good thing those memories are hazy..ha.

    Happy Hannukah to you, and I love Washington Irving!

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