It doesn’t get much more Pagan than mistletoe, does it? Contemporary Pagans regard it as an all-purpose magical herb, so it finds its way into all sorts of potions and charms. Ancient druids held it in great esteem, and we’ve got centuries of folk practice under our belts regarding the herb…the most famous of which is the contemporary practice that a girl (or anyone these days) cannot refuse a kiss if she is standing under the herb.
Growing up as I did in the Midwest, few people had cause to fear the mistletoe kisses. It wasn’t a very prolific plant in the area, so most people never came across it. Since we also didn’t have large numbers of forest wanderers and wildcrafters looking to make a holiday buck, you couldn’t purchase it either, so nobody followed the custom. I was in fifth grade before I even saw anyone hang a ‘mistletoe’ kissing ball and–to be bluntly honest–they used holly. Along both American coasts, though, the holidays do see many forest people climbing trees and hacking down bundles of American mistletoe, which then gets sold in tiny sprigs for $2-$5.
As much as I support the idea of people learning aspects of wildcrafting and as much as I respect the very poor doing what they can to earn a little cash, I always refuse their mistletoe. Unfortunately, almost everyone views mistletoes as an unrepentant parasite sucking the life out of their host. Therefore, when they collect the plant, they often take the entire thing on the grounds that they’re performing a life-saving service to the host tree. In reality, though, the mistletoe infestation is almost never so prominent as to be a dangerous vampire to the tree, and it might actually be giving its hosts something back. As researcher Susan Milius found in her 2002 Science News article “Mistletoe, of All Things, Helps Juniper Trees”, the mistletoe berries attract more birds to the juniper trees. Somehow, the trees end up producing a greater amount of berries themselves, which the birds then eat and spread about the forest. In the end, mistletoe ends up having a very positive effect on the biodiversity of an area.
Between the variables of questionable availability and questionable harvesting practices, then, I have become a major proponent of using artificial mistletoe in holiday decorations. Luckily, Martha Stewart’s amazing staffers have developed a very convincing and sophisticated DIY artificial mistletoe kissing ball. Using Dupioni silk, iron-on vinyl fabric stiffener, pearl floral pins and some florist tape, beautiful mistletoe sprigs are just a quick craft away. The sprigs can then be assembled into little ornament corsages for Yule trees and wreaths, or they can be fashioned into a traditional (and beautiful!) kissing ball, instructions for which follow.
With just a couple hours of work, you’ll end up with a classy product you can re-use year after year. If the idea of losing the magical influence of real mistletoe bothers you, it’s a simple thing to sprinkle a few bits of dried mistletoe into the hot glue securing each glass ornament to the styrofoam ball. Doing so will infuse the entire ornament with the appropriate energy while at the same time eliminating the need to secure fresh herbs every holiday season.
If there’s any questions in assembling the kissing ball, refer to the rather hilarious video of Martha Stewart and Stephen Colbert making this craft. It’s beyond obvious that Martha doesn’t watch the Report or have much patience for Stephen’s antics…and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Tools and Materials
- Iron, binder clips, scissors, hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Light green Dupioni silk (about 1/4 yard)
- Iron-on matte vinyl
- Leaf template
- Green and black permanent markers
- Floral pins with 1/4- to 3/8-inch white pearl heads
- Small pine cones (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size)
- S-shaped floral pins
- Floral wire
- Small (1-inch) white ball ornaments, enough to cover Styrofoam ball
- Glittering glue
- Styrofoam ball (any size from 3 to 8 inches will work)
- Large screw eye hook
- Metallic silver floral spray paint (make sure spray paint is for use on floral items; regular spray paint will melt the Styrofoam)
- Silk ribbon in a coordinating color
How to create the ball:
- Cut silk into an 11-by-17-inch piece. Apply an iron-on matte vinyl to one side of the silk, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Fold the silk into quarters accordion style, lengthwise, with the vinyl side facing out so there are 4 layers. Cut off any excess and clamp with binder clips.
- Print leaf template and cut out. Trace leaves onto vinyl of folded silk with a green permanent marker. Cut out leaves with silk still folded, so you are cutting out four leaves at a time. Move binder clips as you cut to keep layers from shifting.
- Use pearl head floral pins to make berries. Make a dot on each of the pin heads with a black permanent marker, and wrap pins together in twos with floral tape. Wrap silk leaves around the paired pins and secure with more floral tape to create small mistletoe sprigs. Repeat to make enough sprigs for your kissing ball (we made about 35 for a 6-inch ball).
- Attach pinecones to S-shaped floral pins with floral wire.
- Paint glue on the small ball ornaments, and glitter using an assortment of colors (we used White Gold and Coarse Crystal). Paint glue onto pine cones, and glitter. Set ornaments and pine cones aside to dry.
- Insert a large screw eye into the Styrofoam ball and spray paint the ball with metallic silver floral spray paint.
- Start assembling the kissing ball by inserting the small ball ornaments into the Styrofoam ball, side by side. Poke holes in the Styrofoam ball with the stem of the ornament, and add a little hot glue to the hole. Insert the ornament back into the hole. Repeat until the whole ball is covered. (Note: It’s OK if there are some small blank spaces between some ornaments; these will be filled in with mistletoe and pine cones.)
- Finish decorating the kissing ball by inserting the pine cones on pins and mistletoe sprigs into the foam all around the ball.
- Attach a silk ribbon to the eye hook to hang the kissing ball.