The fact that Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which grows in trees makes it an unusual plant to start with. If you add the tradition and legend that surrounds it – it becomes even more intriguing.
For me, for some reason, Mistletoe has always been inextricably linked with New Years Eve celebrations. The idea being, that on the stroke of midnight one has a unique, once in a year, excuse to kiss a perfect stranger under the Mistletoe.
It should be noted here that this kiss must traditionally take place under a bough of Mistletoe, and not ‘elsewhere’ … it is acceptable for celebrants to have their own piece of Mistletoe on hand during a New Years Eve party for any opportunity to hold it aloft in order to kiss a passing party goer.
If you follow the tradition strictly then a white berry must be removed after each kiss. And if no berries remain then no more kisses may be given.
(Although I think more recently the need to have a bough of Mistletoe has taken a bow!)
The other day, while shopping at my local farm shop, I noticed a box of Mistletoe bundles for sale and they stopped me in my tracks.
Traditional Mistletoe with its romantic links to demonstrating affection and close physical proximity to each other … particularly for a stranger (and also friends these days) is now so completely alien that it seems down right weird (based on my interpretation of this tradition) to even consider the idea of buying some!
While I was in the queue I commented (slightly in jest, but not entirely!) “thats a bit controversial isn’t it?”
The cashier replied “we have had some comments about it… and this year the box has come with a warning on it!”
It lead me to wonder exactly how popular the Mistletoe had been this year with their customers… I decided to ask Annette, the owner of the farm shop, by telephone shortly afterwards to find out how the Mistletoe sales have been going.
“Have many customers bought Mistletoe this year?” I asked
“I didn’t get any until I had a lot of people who requested it.” Annette replied… “It wasn’t the young it was the older people. I would say we have sold less than in a normal year but customers are using it for other things like decorations in their homes.
My elderly neighbour has asked me to take some home for them because they’re old romantics and they wanted it for each other…
I couldn’t get any locally this year so it came from a floristry wholesaler. The boxes came with a warning that said something like … in this time of pandemic this item is for decoration only. Please maintain social distancing.”
Interest piqued… I decided to look further into the popular stories that surround Mistletoe and I was delighted to discover that my own understanding of Mistletoe myth and tradition has been very limited to date.
This plant has stories, belief and legend which extend way beyond a simple New Year celebration. I found out that Mistletoe is a Pagan symbol of fertility, a protector against evil spirits and a symbol of love, affection and peace.
There are hundreds of varieties of this plant to be found around the world which is spread through birds droppings. But there are around 20 varieties which are endangered. The plant is poisonous. But that hasn’t stopped it from being considered a ‘cure all’ medicine in the past. It was once thought that witches and ghosts would stay away from Halloween celebrations if this plant was present. It has no scent at all.
… oh, and if you thought that January 1 has always been the start of a New Year… you may want to think again!
Some further reading about Mistletoe