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Christmas means ... mistletoe

Updated: Dec 27, 2019


The last writing prompt for the year from Sydney School of Arts & Humanities (SSOA) - responses from writing group members Cat Davey, Gerdette Rooney and Matt Jackson:


'Mistletoe,' Jane said. 'That’s such an unusual word ...'


Then she walked away briskly. This was her way to avoid kissing Orlando under the jagged bush, the branch that gives permission for an uninvited smooch at Christmas. Orlando, the host of the party, was standing under the mistletoe, which he had placed two steps from the front door, hanging from a light fitting. As each female arrived, he grabbed them, pointed to the mistletoe and leaned in for a kiss, a fog of beer breath, lips scrunched.


There was a long list of things she did not like about Orlando. His name, was obviously number one. His tufted attempt at a beard. His hair swept high in a topknot. His T-shirts with messages, without wit. Tonight it was ‘sorry not sorry for partying’. But most of all she could not stand Orlando’s knuckles, which were furry, ready to hold a banana, more hirsute than his face could ever be. Cat Davey


Mistletoe, such an unusual name ...


It's a leathery-leaved plant with white berries associated with Christmas and, along with holly, used to adorn the house. Not being a botanical expert, I’m ignorant of its origins in kissing and there seem to be many uncertain myths relating to either the Nordic God Baldur, the ancient Greek festival Saturnalia, or the Romans reconciling differences under the mistletoe. I guess it all depends on where you hail from!


In Northern Europe, the tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house goes back to the time of the ancient Celtic Druids when it was deemed to protect all within and ward off evil spirits. It was also a symbol of love and fertility. The astrological lunar calendar of the Celts is based on trees, with the oak being most sacred and representing the summer month of June. Some new-age pagans will still carry an acorn or oak leaf in their pocket for good luck at an interview.


So it was, in the depth of the northern winter with no green on the trees, the parasitic bright green mistletoe was a welcome sight, clinging to the bare sacred oak trunk. And with its twin, the red-berried holly, it brought good cheer during the pagan festival of the winter solstice. The Celts sometimes wore a crown of holly to protect themselves from witches and mad dogs, but in Christian times, it's been a symbol of Jesus’s crown of thorns and the berries his drops of blood.


During my childhood in Ireland, it was a December ritual to go across the frosty fields with my father in search of holly with red berries and some mistletoe, which was only of secondary importance. We were not a demonstrative family.


Berries grow on a female holly tree only and an abundance signified a harsh winter. We used to have to beat the birds to the bright sprigs.


As the house was festooned with a mixture of pagan, Christian and Chinese kitsch, even the Sacred Heart picture in the kitchen, with its eternal light, sported a sprig of holly behind it. Glittery garlands bedecked the dresser. The crib was taken down from the loft and erected in the sitting room window for all to see, and a fresh conifer was decorated in the corner. The green tree, mistletoe and holly reminded us of the immortality of nature and the spring to come.


As friends and family came to visit over the festive season and raised glasses and teacups in good cheer, sadly, no one ever kissed under the mistletoe. Sometimes in my teenage years I would pinch a sprig and carry it in my handbag when going out to the discos – just in case! Gerdette Rooney



‘Mistletoe. That’s such an unusual word,’ she said.


‘Yeah, but I guess any word that has a part of your foot in it will never be the headline act.’


‘Oh? You think?’


‘Yeah. Like, for instance, cameltoe.’


Danika snorted like a pig, bumped the table so hard she spilled both their coffees, and slapped his arm. ‘Marty!’ she squealed, ‘you pig!’


Marty swept his silver top piece back. ‘What? I’m just getting into the Christmas spirit.’


‘Come on! How is that the Christmas spirit?’


‘You’re laughing, aren’t you? Isn’t that festive? Isn’t that the best gift anyone could give?’


‘Really.’


‘Look, I’m just doing my bit for the community, all right? Or are you opposed to charity now?’


Danika slammed her face into her hands. ‘I’m all for charity, it’s just that walking around talking about labias isn’t something most people associate with Christmas.’


Marty paused, momentarily descending into deep thought. ‘What if I turned it into a Christmas carol?’


Danika burst into laughter again as she placed her face downwards on the now coffee-soaked table.


Julie, who’d been listening to this exchange, leaned back towards a nearby open window. ‘You know, maybe this is why these girls keep dumping you. You’re not an ‘appropriate subject matter’ expert.’


Marty blinked. ‘Why? Because I never kissed them under the camel – under the mistletoe?’ Matt Jackson


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*Mistletoe: Old English misteltān, from German ‘mistel'

Credits: photos - (tree) cv williams, (wreath) unsplash, (camel) Yana Yuzvenko; research -LEXICO, history.com, mistletoe.org.uk and whychristmas.com



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