It is snowing as I write this and with the snow comes an eerie silence. The mistletoe embodies this mysterious quality. Throughout history mistletoe has been associated with magical powers and it is hardly surprising. As I observe the unearthly, opaque, white berries they seem to draw me into them like a crystal ball. Mistletoe commands respect and, perhaps, a little apprehension.
At home in the trees
Mistletoe seemingly has no roots. The clumps grow high up in the branches of the trees, forming perfectly round orbs of foliage. In the winter these evergreen spheres become visible when the host tree has lost its leaves. Once again there is a sense of the hidden and the secretive for they have been there all along and yet out of sight. The mistletoe makes its lofty home thanks to birds dropping and passing the seeds. These seeds lodge into the creviced bark, force their roots into the tree and draw on the sap for nourishment. Mistletoe particularly favours apple and oak trees.
Mistletoe and Oak
The Druids, as worshipers of the oak tree, were particularly enamoured of the mistletoe when it grew on oak branches. They believed it held the soul of the host tree and possessed magical properties. It would be gathered on the sixth night of the moon but if the mistletoe touched the ground it would lose its magic. In those days the ancient Celts called mistletoe ‘All Heal’ and when it grew on the oak it was said to heal disease, hold evil spirits at bay and bring blessings. One of these blessings was fertility, so perhaps this is the root cause of the mistletoe’s use as a kissing bough.
Kissing under the Mistletoe
It is likely that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was a legacy of those ancient superstitions. The long-held links to mystery and magic have often been forgotten but part of our traditional Christmas now is to have a kiss under the mistletoe. Mistletoe took on its merrier meaning with the Victorians. They changed how we decorated and celebrated for Christmas with the introduction of the Christmas tree. The tree, the evergreen foliage and wreaths were all enjoyed much more inside the home. Mistletoe is still usually tied up high, often with red ribbon, sometimes as part of a wreath or within a ‘kissing ball’. It was said that there could be a kiss for every berry and so that is the reason people particularly like the boughs bearing most berries. And what better magic can there be than love?
The Flower Writer