It’s the 1st of December and in the UK it’s National Mistletoe Day!
Here in France the lights and displays in the village are all set up waiting to be flicked on. The hut selling crêpes and hot cider is about to open and the Christmas trees are appearing in the shops. At home the first windows of the advent calendar have been opened. I can’t pretend I don’t love it – a month of shiney, twinkly, jinglyness and anticipation!
As the house fills with festive cheer the garden feels just the opposite, cold and bare. Thank goodness for Christmas to break up the gloomier months! But high in the trees there is something seriously festive going on, balls and balls of mistletoe. As I wander around the garden it fills me with memories. When we lived in the UK, I would walk home from work and often stop off at the greengrocers on my way. I loved all the stalks of sprouts, the smell of the christmas trees and the cheesey tunes….Slade, Wizard, Shakin’ Stevens. I’d buy a sprig of mistletoe and twiddle it between my fingers for the rest of the walk home. Then we would holiday in France and I’d look at it all growing everywhere and think what the value would be back in the UK where I’d paid a few pounds for a sprig!
Mistletoe, Viscum album, European mistletoe.
The mistletoe available in the UK depends on imports from mainland Europe. For over 100 years mistletoe has travelled across the Channel to meet demand. What grew in the UK could not meet the Victorian demand and trade has continued ever since.
It’s use at this time of year pre-dates Christianity and mistletoe is considered to be a pagan plant. What do we think about when we see mistletoe? Kissing of course! Until writing this blog I had no idea there were so many other traditions & uses linked to those balls of berries!
The Ancient Druids worshipped mistletoe that grew on their sacred trees, especially oaks. It would be cut with a golden sickle and caught in a hide or cloak. Any mistletoe that hit the ground lost it powers. The caught loot would be used in ritual or medicine.
Getafix, the druid in the Asterix cartoons uses mistletoe to make potions that gave the Gaulish tribe their superhuman powers!
Mistletoe can ward off evil…..to protect our homes we should bring mistletoe inside around Christmas time and leave it to hang for the next year.
Oklahoma in the US has mistletoe as it’s State flower & Herefordshire in the UK as it’s County flower.
Aeneas, in Greece was lead to the dwelling of the dead by picking the ‘Golden Bough’ of mistletoe.
In Norse mythology, the god Baldr was slain by a weapon made of mistletoe. Oh dear.
A much nicer bit of Norse mythology is that mistletoe is a sign of love & friendship and that’s where the custom of kissing comes from – my favourite!
So, from kissing to fertility! Apparently it’s all in the mistletoe’s shape & form……the forking paired branches, paired leaves and berries full of white sticky juice hint of sexual organs in shape, and in content. Oooh errr!
Now before you get too hot under the collar lets not forget, for every kiss under the mistletoe a berry should be picked. Once all the berries have gone it’s all over. Bare that in mind when you are selecting your ‘bunch’ folks!!!
I’m going to be looking at my berries in a whole new light!
I’d love to leave you there, thinking of mistletoe as a fun festive gift full of stories and traditions but we must all face facts.
Mistletoe is a parasite. It takes over our trees and is spread via bird poo. The word mistletoe is derived from bird droppings. “Mistel” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “dung,” and “tan” is the word for “twig.” It makes itself at home using it’s host tree for water and minerals. That said, via photosynthesis it’s able to make it’s own carbohydrates from sunlight – there is no stopping it! We have plenty of mistletoe in our garden. Mistletoe that if it isn’t dealt with has the potential to kill the trees! The farmer that came to take our apples advised us to cut the mistletoe away and also cut a good margin around the base to be sure it’s gone.
Is it actually the kiss of death?
Perhaps. The berries are a problem if ingested by children causing belly aches and diarrhoea. For dogs they can be fatal if eaten. Be careful eh.
From my reading for this blog entry I think I’ve moved on from kissing. We don’t have to wait for Christmas to do that, especially here in France. I think the mistletoe hanging in my house will be following the tradition of peace. In the Druid times, whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. If only. Here’s to December – family, friends, indulgence and peace.