Meet Me Under the Mistletoe

What’s at the market now, you ask?  Mistletoe, mistletoe, and more mistletoe!

Approaching the Bürkliplatz Markt here in Zürich, you can see from afar that there’s something new and different at the market.  Big green bushels have taken over all of the stands.  With Christmas only two weeks away, the market has been real busy in the mornings, not many people leaving without a mistletoe branch in hand.

Misteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, SwitzerlandMisteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, SwitzerlandMisteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, SwitzerlandMisteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, Switzerland

Mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant that grows within the branches of a tree.  I remember the first time that I saw such trees, when I was living in France’s Auvergne region.  Driving through the open fields, seeing rows and rows of trees that seemed to be infested with huge birds’ nests, I thought it was certainly peculiar looking, yet really neat.  When told it was “gui,” (pronounced gee with a hard ‘g’), I didn?t learn that it was mistletoe until I returned home to my French dictionary.  Below are similar trees I saw a few weeks ago in eastern Switzerland, near the border of Liechtenstein, also filled with “Misteln” (mistletoe in German).

Mistletoe Trees, Switzerland

Urs Bernold (below) has a stand simply overflowing with bright, green mistletoe at the Bürkliplatz market here in Zürich.  He brings it all from Walenstadt, about an hour away, and will be at the market for the next month or so.  In a mixture of Swiss German, German and English, he tried to tell me all there is to know about the festive plant.  If I left with but one important fact, it’s: don’t eat the berries! They are poisonous and should absolutely not be eaten.  That said, the more berries in your bushel, the more good luck it brings you in the new year.  So pick a plant that has a vibrant, green color and lots and lots of little, white berries.  Just don’t be tempted to taste.

Misteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, Switzerland

I didn’t ask Urs about the whole tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.  I think I have a few more months of German lessons before I attempt a discussion on love and fertility!  Does anyone know where the tradition comes from… Scandinavian custom?  Druid ritual?  American cinema?  Norse mythology?

Misteln (Mistletoe), Zürich, Switzerland

8 Responses to “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe”

  1. Stéphanie says:

    Souvenirs, souvenirs… combien de fois ai je dû arrêter la voiture pour que tu prennes des photos du gui???
    Urs me donne envie d’apprendre l’allemand maintenant!!!

  2. Jack says:

    Aren’t the markets here in Switzerland just fantastic…every season has something very special… Nice post and pictures…

  3. Steve says:

    Wow, this post has it all: a little holiday spirit, tradition, horticulture, science, your typical local market info, and as always, fabulous photography. Stay tuned on the kissing tradition. Google, here I come!

  4. Jenn says:

    How festive! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mistletoe tree before — glad I have your blog to keep me so well-informed, Kerrin… 🙂

  5. Steve says:

    Google speaks:
    From ancient Scandinavia and the Norse myths: “It was also the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day.” This ancient Scandinavian custom led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. But this tradition went hand-in-hand with one of the Norse myths, namely, the myth of Baldur. Baldur’s death and resurrection is one of the most fascinating Norse myths and stands at the beginning of the history of mistletoe as a “kissing” plant.

  6. Siddhartha says:

    … only in Switzerland, it is also a “kiss of death” – short documentary explaining how:

  7. Kerrin says:

    Thanks Steve for the quick history lesson.

    Even though, Siddhartha has us looking at mistletoe in a very different light. Very interesting – and educational – thank you for sharing.

  8. Lukas says:

    The mistletoe is of course one of the prime ingredients of magic potion in the Asterix books… (still a must read)

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