December 19th: Who will buy my lovely mistletoe?
On three Tuesdays leading up to Christmas, an auction of holly, mistletoe and freshly-made wreaths is held in the ancient town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire. For this brief time the town becomes the mistletoe capital of Britain, with eager buyers flocking from every corner of the country to purchase festive evergreens. All are welcome to bring and to buy, attracting a diverse crowd of farmers, smallholders, wholesalers, florists, tourists and local residents looking to deck their halls in time for Christmas celebrations.
Mistletoe auctions would have been commonplace in the area back in the 1800’s. Over time the market at Tenbury Wells rose to prominence whilst others faded away. Countryside around the town, which enjoys a combination of cold winters and warm summers, as well as an abundance of apple orchards, creates the perfect environment for growing mistletoe. For over 100 years the mistletoe and holly auction was held at the town’s cattle market. After the site was sold to developers in 2004 sales were moved across the county line to Herefordshire, eventually finding a new home at Burford House Garden Store.
For thousands of years mistletoe and holly have been cut and displayed in our homes, principally because of their decorative qualities, but also because of long held associations with love and fertility. For the Romans, mistletoe represented peace, love and understanding. Bunches were hung over doorways to safeguard the household. Druids and Celts considered mistletoe to be a symbol of fertility, probably giving rise to the tradition of kissing beneath it. Once auction buyers turn their purchases into small bundles and sprigs, mistletoe can be sold for ten times the price they originally paid.
Nick Champion has been Tenbury’s official mistletoe and holly auctioneer for more than 40 years. According to his latest auction report, 2431 wreaths and 554 lots of holly and mistletoe were sold at the second sale on December 4th 2018. Successful bidders paid up to £10 per kilo for the finest berried holly, and £6 per kilo for top quality mistletoe. Gold and silver variegated holly attracted a lower price than traditional green holly.
A group called the Tenbury Mistletoe Association ensures that the town’s historic status as the mistletoe capital of the UK is maintained. December 1st was established as National Mistletoe day and the association holds a festival each year to celebrate this unusual British native plant. It’s fantastic to witness old traditions not only being preserved, but being kept vibrantly alive in the places where they originated. TFG.