The Tenbury Mistletoe Festival & National Mistletoe Day
Tenbury is a picturesque market town in the north west of Worcestershire in England. It sits on the banks of the river Teme, which marks the border between Worcestershire and Shropshire. The county of Herefordshire is only a mile away.
Originally named "Temettebury", the town was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market in 1249. In the 1840s, "Wells" was added to Tenbury to promote the mineral waters that naturally occur at this town. Pump rooms were built in a Chinese Gothic style, which can still be seen to this day.
The landscape is a rural one, with orchards once being an important part of the local economy. "The Town in the Orchard" is famed for its apple and damson trees. Whilst many still operate, there are plenty of orchards left in a retired state when the fruit trees are past their best. The fruit harvest is celebrated each October at the Tenbury Applefest. Once the bounty of fruit has passed, another crop is harvested; mistletoe (viscum album).
Wherever you go in this part of England, you will see clumps of mistletoe growing in the trees and hedges. It is this plant that brings people from all over the country, and even further afield. For Tenbury Wells has earned the title of "England's Mistletoe Capital". This semi-parasitic plant grows all over the place, and left to its own devices would kill off a great number of trees. Harvesting helps keep the plant under control and prevents it from becoming a menace, as well as being a boost for the local economy.
1st December has been recognised by British Parliament as "National Mistletoe Day"
The Mistletoe Festival
Each year in December, the town comes alive to celebrate its legacy with mistletoe. Holly and mistletoe are harvested and the auctions begin at the end of November, around the time that Tenbury's Christmas lights are switched on.
Mistletoe auctions have been held in the town for over a hundred years and in modern times are held on the last Tuesday of November, and then on the first and second Tuesdays in December.
The main mistletoe festival day takes place on the first Saturday after 1st December. A local girl is crowned the Mistletoe Queen, and a lantern-lit parade makes its way through the town as the winter sun sets.
With plenty of events and stalls to keep the townsfolk and visitors entertained, all ages are catered for at the festival. Activities and entertainers keep the children amused, whilst more sophisticated events such as a jazz evening help you to unwind over a hot mulled wine in one of the town's many historic pubs.
Mistletoe decorates the streets and local businesses who are proud to show off the town's association with the plant. Local artisans and businesses offer plenty of choice for those seeking a unique Christmas present for a loved one.
After dark, Tenbury becomes a magical place filled with musicians and story-tellers. Many events are free of charge, but a few require tickets which can be purchased in advance from the festival's website.
The main mistletoe festival day takes place on the first Saturday after 1st December
National Mistletoe Day
The Tenbury Mistletoe Association was formed in 2004, to promote and preserve the traditions around the town's mistletoe heritage. The townsfolk realised that their mistletoe traditions were at risk when the auction houses closed, moving the auctions out of town. The heart of mistletoe was being taken out of Tenbury, and it was going to be an effort to bring it back.
Their efforts have been a huge success, with the annual Mistletoe Festival going from strength-to-strength.
1st December has been recognised by British Parliament as "National Mistletoe Day", after the Association petitioned the government for some national recognition for this important festive crop. Since 2005, this event has been noted all over the country.
The day is marked by a number of Druidic groups, for whom this plant is sacred, as well as those that love this festive plant. Supporters of mistletoe might wear a sprig pinned to their jackets, whilst others go the full hog and hang a bunch in or outside their homes.
There are many traditions and customs around mistletoe, which will be looked at in more detail in their own article. These include the belief that saving mistletoe in the house would prevent it from being struck by lightning, to the more widely known Victorian tradition of kissing under a bunch of mistletoe.
Mistletoe will last for weeks as long as it is kept cool and sprayed with water mist every other day. If kept in the house without this, it will quickly dry up and shrivel into an unattractive mess. It is the perfect addition to a festive wreath, or a small bunch hung over the doorway makes a delightful feature to welcome visitors to your home.
So why not get yourself a sprig of this festive plant? You never know when a Yuletide kiss will be needed!
If you are interested in the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival, please be sure to take a look at their website for up-to-date information about the events each year:
This article specifically looks at the Festival and National Mistletoe Day. Further articles are in the works that look at medicinal uses, and the auctions among other things.
In this series:
- The Magic of Mistletoe; looking at the folklore and superstitious uses of this plant
Tenbury Wells is found in north east Worcestershire, just over an hour's drive from Worcester or Birmingham.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Pollyanna Jones