Mistletoe for peace, not kisses

7 December 2020

A kissing bough made of twigs, evergreens and fruit which was hung from the ceiling was traditionally the centre-piece of Christmas decorations in the UK before Christmas trees were introduced.  Later, mistletoe was used instead, a tradition we’re more familiar with today.

Apparently, the custom of kissing under mistletoe started in ancient Greece, where the plant was linked with fertility. For the Romans, it represented peace, as warring enemies would settle their differences under a branch of mistletoe.

During the Victorian era, it was said that a maiden who refused the offer of a kiss under mistletoe would jinx her chances of getting married the following year.

Mistletoe by Liz Waddell.

Mistletoe is a type of evergreen which grows on a host tree and is, I’d thought, very difficult to cultivate.  I was surprised, then, to see healthy clumps of it on a couple of young trees in Loughborough Cemetery recently.  I’ve since been told there’s quite a lot of mistletoe on the trees along Epinal Way, from the Fire Station at Thorpe Acre up to the Beacon Road roundabout. 

In nature, mistletoe seeds are spread by birds that have eaten the berries. They either regurgitate the seeds, spread them in their droppings, or – most commonly – wipe their beaks against branches to get them off (the liquid from the berries being very sticky.)

I’m told it’s possible to grow your own mistletoe by pressing seeds into the bark of a branch. Apparently it’s a good idea, then, to tie a piece of string around the place you’ve squished it, so you don’t forget where it is!

Things are a little different this year, with mistletoe markets across the country cancelled for the first time in living memory and people discouraged from touching folks they know (unless they’re in the same bubble), let alone seeking a kiss from a complete stranger.

But perhaps we could still hang mistletoe as ‘all heal’ – the name the druids used for the plant, which they believed brought good luck and scared away evil.  We could definitely do with some of that kind of magic just now!

Mistletoe growing in Loughborough Cemetery – December 2020.