The first of a few rather tasteless mistletoe-themed things for this season. Thankfully it’s too late to get this one – the Smooching Sweater – now, so there’s no need to worry. Unless someone managed to get you one for Christmas. Each sweater had to be won though – you couldn’t just buy one. The competition closed at the end of November, so they may already be collectibles. And it was US-based, not here in the UK. There’s no accounting for taste in the US.
But, though I say it is tasteless, this particular product is, actually, all about taste – chewing gum taste. It was a promotion by Orbit Peppermint Gum to help you get ‘your zing back’, and freshen your breath for that kiss below the mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned being on a wire attached to the back of the sweater and the chewing gum dispensed, for you and your kissee, from a dispenser on the front of the sweater. And just in case that didn’t work the whole sweater is peppermint scented anyway.
A unique combination of being tasteless and pepper-flavoured/scented at the same time. It also lights up, controlled by a remote control on the sleeve and has flashy sequins across the chest. One size fits all.
The ‘mistletoe’ is, of course, just moulded plastic, the usual cheat. But at least the concept is unconventional. Orbit seemed pleased to describe it as ugly. And their webpage about it gives a new meaning to FOMO, concluding that, even though the competition is over;
No further mention of the need for mistletoe though.
Plenty of mistletoe mentions on ITV this morning – all within the 2 hour show Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh (on ITV Hub here). Helped along a bit by Sir Cliff ‘Mistletoe and Wine‘ Richard being the main guest.
Christmas swag-making featured about 30 minutes in – with plenty of mistletoe incorporated into a very long decoration. Some good mentions of how sticky the berries are, and their need for light when germinating, but then Mr Titchmarsh ruined the illusion that, for once, here was a TV Gardener who knew how to grow mistletoe, by stating, categorically, that berries had to be ‘rotten’ before the seeds would germinate. Where on earth did he get that bit of nonsense from?? Berries have to be mature (which they will be in February/March, not now) but not rotten. How would being rotten help?! They germinate best when fresh and healthy. Yet another TV Gardener getting it wrong (see many previous blogs over many years). I really do despair.
All the more frustrating because I had helped make this programme – their Tree of the Week was Apple, using footage taken in an orchard session with me back in October, with Lesley Joseph’s voiceover referencing the link between apple trees and mistletoe (49 minutes in if you watch it) and then a session with me talking about mistletoe, in that same Gloucestershire orchard, at 76 minutes* in. Nice little bit of film, didn’t realise my hair was getting so grey though!
And, towards the end (about 105 minutes in) another nod to apple trees and Gloucestershire orchards when Alan and Sir Cliff sample some liqueurs, including an Eau de Vie made from apples grown in a heritage varieties orchard in Gloucestershire.
Apples trees, orchards and mistletoe – what’s not to like? Just incorrect (as usual) TV Gardener advice!
(*timings are all from the 2 hour programme as broadcast. If you’re watching on ITV Hub it’s 30 minutes shorter (fewer ads) so my bit is at about 59 minutes in. If watching ad-free on ITV Plus it will, I assume, be even earlier.)
The phrase Mistletoe Market is fairly uncommon here in the UK – the mistletoe auctions at Tenbury Wells are sometimes called this, but not often. We also have a few Mistletoe Fairs – some more mistletoey than others (of which more in another post soon) – but we have few events formally called a Mistletoe Market.
But cross the atlantic and the US is brimming with ‘mistletoe markets’, some lasting just a day or so, some lasting weeks, some as early as November, some not until nearer Christmas. These are real, regular, pre-Christmas phenomena.
So what are they, and where, if at all, does mistletoe feature? Mistletoe in the US is, as regular Mistletoe Diary readers will know, a different and much less attractive species than the species we have here in Europe, so it would be surprising if these markets were actually about mistletoe – the local species aren’t really special enough!
And of course they’re not about mistletoe, the word is used as a label for a seasonal pre-Christmas retail event. But that doesn’t matter – it’s still a reflection of mistletoe as a cultural plant, harking back centuries, possibly millennia, to mid-winter customs with the plant.
Many of these Mistletoe Markets are run by good causes – Junior Leagues, Schools and other community groups. Others are run by city authorities and a few seem to be firmly commercially-run.
Mistletoe Market is returning, Junior League of Cobb-Marietta is excited for the return of the beloved holiday shopping event. We are thrilled to bring back the spirit of Mistletoe Market, raising funds to support many community service programs. You can’t go wrong by Shopping Small and For a Cause! Mistletoe Market will be bringing together 50 plus specialty merchants from across the Southeast. Join us as we get the holiday season started!
Mistletoe Market is Oklahoma City’s premier shopping event featuring unique merchandise from more than 100 carefully selected vendors from Oklahoma and across the country. Shop for clothing, gourmet foods, gifts, children’s items, jewelry and more – we promise you’ll find everything you need and more!
Mistletoe Market raises funds to support the mission of the Junior League of Oklahoma City. Proceeds from Mistletoe Market go to fund the Junior League of Oklahoma City’s health-based community projects in the Oklahoma City metro and helps the Junior League send trained volunteers into the community.
Thanks to the dollars raised at Mistletoe Market since 1994, JLOC has been able to distribute more than $1.5 million to Oklahoma City through funding of community projects!
The Mistletoe Market will run from 10am to 6pm on December 7, 2019. Reminiscent of the German Kristkindl Market, this festive Holiday Shopping Market brings old world charm & warmth to Grove City’s Historic Town Center
Breakfast with Santa. Come to these Festive Market Spaces for your unique, one of a kind, Holiday Gift Shopping
• In Town Center Businesses
• Inside City Hall’s Council Chambers & Lobby
Find Selected Retailers & Fine Crafters for Exclusive Holiday Gift Items & Winter Wares
The Junior League of Huntington’s Mistletoe Market is a one-day shopping event that kicks off the holiday shopping season. Proceeds from this event help us with our initiatives on promoting physical and mental wellness for women and children. Mistletoe Market 2019 will be held at the Ramada Limited located at 3094 16th Street Road in Huntington, WV on Friday, November 8th from 4:00 pm-10:00 pm. If you purchase a VIP ticket you are granted early access from 4:00 pm-6:00 pm along with a wine glass full of coupons.
Mistletoe Market celebrates its 21st anniversary on October 31 – November 3, 2019 at Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. Highlights of the Market include $500 in shopping spree opportunities, Mistletoe Market Cafe, and daily door prizes. Over 80 Merchants from 15 states bring a variety of items including: gifts for the gardener in your family, jewelry including earrings, bracelets and necklaces, holiday decor, clothing, and antiques. In addition to our cafe there are gourmet food vendors with fantastic holiday treats and food trucks to keep your energy high as you shop til’ you drop.
Shop till you drop at the Midtown Mistletoe Market. This destination, high energy NYC style holiday inspired market features contemporary craft, makers, fine foods, lots of activities, DIY gift stations, live entertainment and artists selling their original and series works, located in the heart of Midtown Houston in Midtown Park. Look for the beautiful outdoor setting with custom made red and white tents and holiday décor. Sip, stop and play Santa is on his way.
These are just a few – have a google if you want to find out about all the others!
Here in the UK we seem to call similar events (though we don’t actually have many of them) Mistletoe Fairs – I’ll say more about those another time.
Mistletoe Information: for general mistletoe info visit the Mistletoe Pages website.
Turdus ipse sibi malum cacat, an old latin proverb, relates directly to mistletoe, and to the capture of birds. It translates as ‘the thrush excretes its own trouble (or death)’ and is all about Birdlime, a sticky substance once used widely to capture small birds. One of the traditional, and perhaps fundamental, ingredients of Birdlime, was mistletoe, especially the sticky juice form the berries. The proverb is about mistle thrushes, eating mistletoe berries and creating long strings of sticky turds, formed of semi-digested mistletoe gunk, very similar to manufactured birdlime.
It seems an odd concept now, the idea of taking a load of mistletoe berries to make a gluey paste to then capture birds. Why and how would it be done? And how long ago did this start? The latin saying has origins over 2000 years ago, with early attributions including Plautus (254-184 BC) and slightly later ones to Athenaeus (2nd-3rd century AD). It was repeated in various forms over the centuries, notably by Erasmus (1466-1536) in his Adagia (c 1500). This antiquity does raise some questions over which thrush and which mistletoe is meant (Plautus was based in Italy, 2200 years ago) but, putting that aside, it does seem to make sense – if birdlime is indeed made from mistletoe berries.
As for why and how, the why is to capture birds for food or, sometimes, for caged birds. The how is simple – smearing the birdlime onto branches, sometimes with a a tethered captured bird to lure others in. It sounds old and barbaric – and it is. But it is also an ongoing phenomenon in some countries around the world, including, apparently, in Europe (see this story from 2007). The indiscriminate nature of this trapping method was and is a particularly nasty aspect. Spain continued (and possibly still does continue) the practice until recently – a 2004 EU review of the legality is outlined here and some more news on this from 2006 is outlined here.
But, getting back to the Birdlime itself, was this really made from mistletoe and if so was it really from the berries? That’s certainly what the proverb implies – but in reality many Birdlime recipes exist and mistletoe isn’t often a major ingredient. Interestingly (just to keep a seasonal theme!) Holly bark is a major ingredient in many European recipes, boiled up to create a sticky mess. Slippery Elm bark appears in US recipes. Mistletoe also features in these recipes, but some refer to Loranthus europeaus, the yellow berried (and disappointingly deciduous!) mistletoe of central southern Europe. Plautus might have known that mistletoe better than our white-berried Viscum album.
So whilst mistletoe was an ingredient it may never have been the primary one, and it may not even have been our mistletoe. But let’s not let that get in the way of a good story…
My favourite version from the historic accounts isn’t Plautus, but good old Aesop (620 – 564 BC) in his fables, where the story is referenced in the fable ‘The Owl and the Birds’. This isn’t, probably, an Aesop original but one of the many added in later editions, so it is not as old as his dates imply. You only find it in some of the longer compilations, and even then the mistletoe story is only mentioned as part of a general warning to the birds of other risks. Here’s the story from the Folio Society version:
There’s a lot more to say about Birdlime – I’ll post Birdlime #2 in a few days…
Nearly mistletoe harvesting time, with the berries ripening nicely. And, on the mistletoe here in the Severn Vale at least, there are lots of berries. Again (several years running now).
There’s a slide show below showing some pictures I took this week in the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust‘s orchards at Longney, demonstrating the huge number of berries in the (handful of) mistletoe-laden apple trees there.
Most of the berries have whitened up now, though some are still green, and none have yet got that distinctive pearlescent translucency they get when fully ripe. But there’s no need to worry, they’ll be all white soon.
There are also a couple of pics showing the continuing fruit crop there (much has already been processed by local juice-makers, including Days Cottage) and the new plantings. These orchards are being restored as productive traditional orchards – mistletoe is not, obviously, a primary aim, but is a traditional seasonal by-product.
Cotehele House, the National Trust estate on the Tamar estuary, is famous for its Christmas Garland; a 60-foot long flower-filled decoration they hang in the Hall each year. The dried flowers used are all grown in the estate garden, where there is also, as I’ve probably mentioned before, a large colony of mistletoe in the apple orchard. Mistletoe is fairly rare in this part of the south-west, so the mistletoe is significant. The orchard is valuable too – extended 10 years ago to include a new ‘Mother Orchard’ of historic local fruit varieties, conserving that genetic resource.
The garland takes over a week to make, and today was the last preparation day, ending with it being hung for display to visitors over the next few weeks. And, as we happened to be in the area, we called in to have a look…
This year is special – as the garland tradition is 60 years-old. By the time we got there today it was completed and in the air, with just some final adjustments from a scaffold tower. Chris Groves, NT’s senior gardener at Cotehele (and orchard guru), had just cut one of the finishing touches – a ball of mistletoe from the orchard, to be hung over the door at the end of the garland. This year’s theme is white – so fits particularly well with the mistletoe. Or will do when the berries are fully ripe and white – the berries on today’s bunch were still a little green, but Chris will be replacing the mistletoe with fresh, riper-berried, material in the run-up to Christmas.
Afterwards we had a quick look around the orchards – the established one in the main garden, where there is a lot of mistletoe, and the newer Mother Orchard adjoining it. There was more mistletoe than I remember from my last visit – but Chris is keeping it under control. He cuts the berried (female) plants to sell in the Cotehele shop each Christmas and manages the unberried (male) plants when doing annual tree pruning. Here are some pics of the old orchard, with its mistletoe:
Some bird-sown mistletoe plants have been appearing in a few of the Mother Orchard trees, but he is pruning that out entirely, at least for now, as those are still fairly small trees. Some, on MM106 rootstock, will stay small-ish but others, on M25 rootstock, will grow to standard tree size and be very suitable for mistletoe. That’s in the long-term of course – but it does mean that the mistletoe colony at Cotehele looks set to survive well into the future, along with the local apple varieties too. Some pics of the new orchard below:
PS for my niece Harriet, if she's reading this, apols for not calling in, all a bit last-minute and anyway you wouldn't want to catch our colds...
More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do
Today sees the first of the 2014 Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions – and I’m unable to be there. So instead here’s a story (two stories actually – a serious one and a silly one) about mistletoe drones.
The Mistletoe Diary has covered mistletoe drone stories before, notably last year when some ‘interactive artists’ deployed a mistletoe-bearing drone in Union Square, San Francisco.
This year reports of similar initiatives are coming in from all over the place. This is, actually, not all that surprising: ‘Toy’ drones have become really popular, and what better way is there to hang mistletoe over people? No longer do you have to wait until you stand under the mistletoe – now you can make the mistletoe come to you – or to your friend.
One UK example is in TGI Fridays where mistletoe drones will be flying around diner’s heads this Christmas, following a trial at their Manchester store. Their promotional video from Manchester is below.
TGI Fridays say that a survey (whose? when?) has found 47% of Brits have never kissed under mistletoe – and this is their attempt to correct this.
Sadly, of course, they are doomed to fail. Why? Because that’s not mistletoe hanging from the drone – it’s plastic imitation mistletoe, and that’s hardly an inspiration to follow the traditions of the ancients! If you want to revive a tradition then surely you should start by following it! But perhaps this is TGI Fridays style – a little bit plasticky?
Now, talking of real mistletoe, here’s a story of a proper mistletoe drone – this time a serious story using drones to survey mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned is Dendropemon caymanensis, a rare mistletoe endemic to Little Cayman, one of the Cayman Islands.
Last summer the local Department of Environment teamed up with staff from Kew Gardens in the UK to spot and map out the species by flying a camera drone over the forests it grows in – this being a much quicker way than going in on foot and having to look at every tree. Full details of the project (which completed this summer) are here. Note (left) the rather more sophisticated drone they are using!
A news report, detailing the, er, limited success of the project is in the video below (if the video doesn’t play click here to view it in a new window)
This sort of approach could also be used in here in the UK – as mistletoe is, as I’ve pointed out in Mistletoe Diary before, one of the few plants that can be mapped from aerial photography. But we have little need of such an approach, as all our mistletoe is fairly obvious from the ground.
Nevertheless the concept is appealing – and I’ve been thinking about using a camera-carrying drone to examine how mistletoe grows in higher trees (without having to climb them) and also to simply take pictures of mistletoe from above – which gives a whole new perspective. But that’s all still on the drawing board for now… (but can you guess what’s on my Christmas list?).
Earlier this month I contributed to a local WW1 exhibition with some documents and correspondence relating to my Great Uncle Clifford, who died in July 1918 as a Prisoner of War. He shipped to France on 2nd April and was immediately sent to serve in the trenches but on 27th May, after just 8 weeks at war, he was captured. Several official ‘I am a Prisoner of War’ postcards were sent home and a longer letter written (but never sent). He died from ‘cardiac weakness’ in July – but neither the army nor his family got this news until January 1919. My grandmother, his sister, had been hopefully meeting the troop trains arriving home ever since the Armistice in November 1918 – but her brother had been dead for months. His last letter was in his effects.
What has this tragic story got to do with mistletoe? Nothing directly. But it has reminded me of the use of mistletoe as a good luck motif – particularly in that war. Mistletoe was once strongly associated with luck – and many of the older traditions and legends can be interpreted as suggesting it has some sort of protective role. The popular kissing custom has, today, rather eclipsed many of these older traditions – but 100 years ago more customs may have still thrived. The location of the fighting in northern France and Belgium may have helped as French-speaking areas, even today, still hold on to the custom of mistletoe for luck – a ‘Porte Bonheur’.
This tradition was, by the time of WW1, often manifested in France through pictorial postcards, often celebrating the New Year – and also with art nouveau style objets d’art (see some here) often embellished with the phrase ‘au gui l’an neuf’ – mistletoe for the New Year, effectively wishing the recipient a lucky and successful New Year.
During the war a variant of these cards, in the form of the embroidered so-called ‘silk’ postcards, were often used. Such silk cards were a popular item to post home from the front and many with mistletoe imagery, linked to some good luck message, survive.
Here’s one sold on ebay this week. Now, whether the mistletoe imagery was chosen by the British tommy for good luck – or whether the local producers (these were all made in France) simply made them to reflect their own local custom of mistletoe and luck is not known. It could be either, or both.
But I like to think it was both – and that the man in the trenches didn’t just associate mistletoe with kissing – instead seeing it as a luck symbol too.
I’ll finish with this picture of three WW1 British soldiers just about to celebrate Christmas. They are all wearing mistletoe in their hats – and it is perfectly placed for kissing. But, as there was, one assumes, no-one appealing enough to want to kiss, perhaps that mistletoe was actually being worn for luck.
Unconvinced? Just look (like they are) at the chicken – which possesses no mistletoe and is, I confidently predict, now completely out of luck…