There is no excuse not to kiss under the mistletoe this year. Britain has produced a bumper crop that is festooned with more pearly-white berries than ever. For more than a hundred years, an enormous auction – the only one of its kind – has been held in Tenbury Wells, on the borders of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, our mistletoe-growing heartland. Apart from supermarket stocks, which tend to come direct from growers, the great bulk of British mistletoe is sold here.
At last week’s auction – held in a windswept field on the edge of the market town – there were Christmas trees, red-berried holly and locally made wreaths for sale, but it was the mistletoe, tied with twine in suitcase-sized bundles, in which the buyers, mostly garden- centre owners and wholesalers, were most interested.
Unlike American, Asian and Australian species, our mistletoe – the northern European white-berried Viscum album – is the stuff of legend. The ancients were fascinated by it, in particular by the way it seems to grow without roots, appearing as if by magic on trees. We now know that it is a hemiparasitic plant, gathering some of its nutrients from the host tree, but also photosynthesising to produce its own sugars.
For the Romans, mistletoe represented peace, love and understanding. The dark green leaves and white berries were also a Celtic fertility symbol.
In Britain’s mistletoe-growing regions, a branch would be brought inside at Christmas to protect the house. Any woman walking underneath could not refuse to be kissed, or she would remain an old maid. After a kiss, she would pick a berry from the branch. But kissing only became a national Christmas tradition in the 18th century, thanks to the Victorians’ obsession with Druids, driven by William Stukeley, the first archaeologist to complete a serious study of Stonehenge. And with the advent of Britain’s railways, it became possible to transport the fresh mistletoe efficiently around the country for the first time.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/chris ... stmas.html