Behind the Scenes Holidays White House

White House Wednesday: Behind the Stanchions | The Kissing Ball


By Bryce VanStavern
Interpretation Supervisor

I suspect most of our visitors don’t know it’s there. It isn’t easy to see. It’s in a bit of a dark recess over their heads. But if you’ve ever wanted to steal a kiss in the White House of the Confederacy, Christmas season is your chance. Hanging in the doorway between the Central and Western Parlors is a Kissing Ball.

A Kissing Ball is a sphere of greenery with a bit of mistletoe affixed to the bottom. A red bow makes this a perfect Christmas decoration.

The mistletoe tradition seems to have started during the late 18th century. As usual with these things, it most likely harkens back to a time when mistletoe was associated in some way with fertility.

The tradition is simple: a man may kiss any woman he sees standing under mistletoe. Should the woman refuse, bad luck will follow her for the rest of her life. (I am guessing men started this tradition.)

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows among the branches of trees. In the South, it was a popular sport to shoot Mistletoe out of trees; in many rural areas it remains so.

Once gathered, Mistletoe can be hung anywhere convenient for would-be kiss stealers, or it can be made a part of a decoration such as a Kissing Ball. Either way, kissing under the Mistletoe was a popular Christmas tradition during the Civil War era.

Today, 150 years after the Civil War, merrymakers continue their quest for that little piece of mistletoe to steal a kiss under.