What Are Kissing Balls?

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Kissing balls are pomanders, round decorated bases studded or festooned with flora, ribbons or other small items and hung in an arch or doorway. You'll find them in traditional holiday decor as well as at wedding receptions. Tiny flower girls may have a flower-covered kissing ball to carry rather than a basket of petals or blossoms. Kissing balls are fairly simple to make and can be customized for parties and seasonal celebrations.

1 From Parasite to Party Favorite

Mistletoe is a parasite that grows on the oak trees sacred to ancient Druids. The green plant with slightly translucent white berries forms a large ball on its host. In the past, Druids cut the clump free from the tree and distributed strands of mistletoe as a blessing. Scandinavian mythology led to the custom of kissing under mistletoe. The mischievous god Loki shot Freyja's son with a mistletoe arrow and killed him. The goddess' tears turned to mistletoe berries, and, when the Norse gods restored her son's life, grateful Freyja promised to kiss and bless anyone who passed beneath the mistletoe. The mistletoe legend was a convenient excuse for impropriety in Victorian England, and the mistletoe kissing ball retains some of that magic today.

2 Green Globes

Mistletoe is extremely poisonous and somewhat rare and expensive. But decorative holiday kissing balls are not limited to old Druid or Norse magical beliefs. A grapevine or wicker ball, florists' moss, reindeer moss and small succulent plants make a pretty green kissing ball for a protected porch or a doorway. Poke the moss inside the ball and glue more of it to the exterior, leaving plenty of the woody strands and openings of the ball visible. Moisten the moss. Carefully work small succulents inside the ball, or clip a few strands at the top to create an opening for the plants. Glue more tiny succulents around the outside and on the top of the ball, add a twine loop for hanging, and you have a kissing ball that will last for some time with an occasional light spray of water.

3 Pucker Up Under the Potato

Pagan ways died hard under the onslaught of Christian holiday practices, and homemade kissing balls were popular holdouts. In the days before foam craft balls, one way to make a kissing ball was to tie a string around a round potato. The potato was suspended in a passageway and festooned with sprigs of evergreen, holly, ivy and aromatic herbs until it disappeared under a mound of green. The herbs and greens have meaning as well as a pleasant scent. Rosemary is for remembrance and fidelity; sage signifies good health and long life; boxwood means perseverance and faithful love; oregano signals happiness and courage; lavender is for devotion. You could make a traditional potato kissing ball with your own sprigs of evergreen and herbs. Fasten a bit of mistletoe at the bottom to ensure holiday license. Use an apple if you don't have a potato handy.

4 Petalled Pomanders

Kissing balls are wedding favorites for decorations and substitutes for brides', flower girls' and bridesmaids' bouquets. Small florists' foam balls are soaked, wrapped in open wire mesh, covered in moss, and studded with flowers all over so no glimpse of the base remains. A long satin ribbon is secured to the ball with a pin, or tied to the wire mesh so the kissing ball may be hung over a table or swung from a wrist. Centerpieces of floral kissing balls, or pomanders, leave a small area on the bottom of each ball free from flowers so it will rest on a pedestal. The decorative pomanders may be covered in feather and silk butterflies, artificial flowers, blossoms made from newsprint or craft paper, looped ribbon, seashells, buttons or anything that will stick to -- or in -- the underlying round shape.

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .