The Magic of Mistletoe
From its promise of marriage to serving as a symbol of truce between warring tribes, the magic of mistletoe has long remained at the center of folklore. While many claim its powers are just a myth, Davis and Margery Henry prove that it may be magic after all. After 54 Christmases together, the Henrys – both 78 – know a thing or two about mistletoe. Not only has it played a role in every Christmas they’ve shared together, but it was also prominent in their families’ homes while they were growing up a few miles from one another in the Pintlala community of Montgomery County. Five children (Garry, Gus, Lora Gail, Mitch and Mike), 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren later, mistletoe continues to play a role in each of their holiday seasons and can be found above each doorway in the Henry’s home.”Since he was old enough, Mitch would shoot the mistletoe out of the trees for us. It was his job,” recalls Margery. “Now, his son, Mitchell, has taken over the job and looks forward to it every year.”A staple in their festivities, mistletoe shares its place in the Henry’s Christmas celebrations with family gatherings and good Southern cooking. “I always look forward to having the family over, enjoying their company and all the food,” said Davis. “Since I’m a diabetic, holidays and birthdays are the only times I really indulge.”
With a menu including turkey and dressing and a variety of desserts, Davis has plenty of options to satisfy his hankerings for those not-so-diet-friendly foods. While the food and fellowship is something the Henry’s have done for ages, the tradition of mistletoe has a history that spans centuries and continents. Steeped in lore, the magic of mistletoe is rooted in several cultures. Some believe mistletoe was a way to ensure a plentiful harvest and human fertility. Others used the plant in a more decorative way, binding the mistletoe to a frame to form a kissing ring, and many still believe that a young man should pluck a berry each time he kisses a girl beneath its green leaves.
Despite its romantic lure, mistletoe’s botanical background is far less glamorous. Truthfully, mistletoe is a parasite that latches onto tree limbs with extensions that allow the plants to take water and nutrients from the tree without much effort. As it matures, mistletoe can grow to be several feet in diameter. With this extensive coverage area, removal of mistletoe from a tree equates to the complete removal of the affected limbs. There are several varieties of this parasitic shrub, but in Alabama, the primary species is the oak mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum. Even though mistletoe’s effect on trees isn’t as magical as the folklore and traditions surrounding it, one thing remains true: the arrival of mistletoe means Christmas – and perhaps a little romance – is around the corner.