The innocence of H1N1 and mistletoe

Discussing the mistletoe kissing crisis with a reporter recently I recalled the ‘Kissing Etiquette’ devised by Debretts, in conjunction with the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival, back in 2009. That was in the winter of the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic – a time that seems so innocent now.

As does the kissing advice of the day – which was, basically, that kissing on the cheeks is more hygienic that on the mouth. Which is very probably true. But it is still actual face-to-face touching, which seems unthinkable advice in these times of face-masks and social distancing. I suspect that there was only limited epidemiological content in Debretts advice at the time! They did suggest that if you felt ill you shouldn’t be at the party (what party?) in the first place – an instruction that also seems a little na├»ve now.

But if you were felt ok and so were attending a gathering the under-the-mistletoe technique suggested was, having asked for permission first, to do a cheek-to-cheek. Going for the other person’s right cheek first and then the other side. Keeping both encounters brief.  Not something that would be recommended now.  Apart from for fellow household members, obviously.

Debretts now, in a recent blog on The Return of the Mask make it very clear that they fully support mask-wearing and that it is good practice to wear one and to practice social distancing.

There’s no mention in that blog of kissing or indeed mistletoe.  Too tricky to tackle perhaps.  But I suspect, if they were to devise an etiquette for that now it would be much more complex than in 2009.

With perhaps a suggestion that a first step would be asking if there was permission for the gathering(!). Secondly swapping info on recent test results and level of vaccination. And thirdly, if the first two answers are satisfactory, asking whether the other person would prefer a mistletoe elbow bump, or foot-tap, or an air-kiss. Through a mask – across two metres.

The elbow-bump seems to be quite popular, though it is worth making sure you are not being presumptuous, always be sure the other party wants to greet you like this:


Plan ahead for a post-covid world – start growing your own mistletoe kisses by buying Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.