Tradition and Trade
Traditional Christmas carols celebrate the holly and the ivy, but their
use as winter decorations predates the Christian festival. The Romans believed
that holly's prickly leaves drove away evil spirits while the Ancient Britons
felt that ivy protected them against goblins. The custom of kissing under
the mistletoe derives from a Norse myth which decreed that no harm should
befall anyone standing beneath this plant and that they should receive only
tokens of affection.
Birds also benefit from these three evergreen plants. Holly berries
and the black fruits of ivy are a valuable source of food even
in the depths of winter for blackbirds, thrushes and fieldfares.
Mistletoe, perched high on the branches of apple, lime or oak,
depends on birds to disperse its seeds. Mistle thrushes may even
derive their name from this plant. Its white fruits contain a sticky
pulp that clings to a bird's bill. As the bird wipes the pulp off
against a branch, it spreads the mistletoe's seeds.
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