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The tradition of wassailing (alt spwasselling)falls into two distinct categories: the house-visiting wassail and the orchard-visiting wassail. The house-visiting wassail is the practice of people going door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts; this practice still exists, but has largely been displaced by caroling. The orchard-visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.
The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning "be thou hale"—i.e., “be in good health”. The correct response to the greeting is Drinc hæl meaning "drink and be healthy".According to the Oxford English Dictionary waes hael is the Middle English (and hence post-Norman) spelling parallel to OE hál wes þú, and was a greeting not a toast.
The American Heritage Dictionary, fifth edition, gives Old Norse ves heill as the source of Middle English waeshaeil.However the Oxford English Dictionary explicitly rejects this, saying "neither in Old English nor in Old Norse, nor indeed in any Germanic language, has any trace been found of the use as drinking formulas".
In recent times, the toast has come to be synonymous with Christmas.
Traditionally, the wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night (variously on either January 5 or 6). Some people still wassail on "Old Twelvey Night", January 17, as it would have been before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.
In the middle ages, the wassail was a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient-initiated charitable giving, to be distinguished from begging. This point is made in the song "Here We Come A-wassailing", when the wassailers inform the lord of the house that
we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door
But we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.
The lord of the manor would give food and drink to the peasants in exchange for their blessing and goodwill, i.e.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year
This would be given in the form of the song being sung. Wassailing is the background practice against which an English carol such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" can be made sense of.The carol lies in the English tradition where wealthy people of the community gave Christmas treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve such as 'figgy puddings'.
Although wassailing is often described in innocuous and sometimes nostalgic terms—still practiced in some parts of Scotland and Northern England on New Years Day as "first-footing"—the practice in England has not always been considered so innocent. Similar traditions have also been traced to Greece and the country of Georgia. Wassailing was associated with rowdy bands of young men who would enter the homes of wealthy neighbours and demand free food and drink (in a manner similar to the modern children's Halloween practice of trick-or-treating).If the householder refused, he was usually cursed, and occasionally his house was vandalized. The example of the exchange is seen in their demand for "figgy pudding" and "good cheer", i.e., the wassail beverage, without which the wassailers in the song will not leave; "We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here". Such complaints were also common in the early days of the United States, where the practice (and its negative connotations) had taken root by the early 1800s; it led to efforts from the American merchant class to promote a more sanitized Christmas.
In the cider-producing West of England (primarily the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) wassailing also refers to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. Wassailing is also a traditional event in Jersey, Channel Islands where cider (cidre) made up the bulk of the economy before the 20th century. The format is much the same as that in England but with terms and songs often in Jèrriais
An old rhyme goes:
Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.
The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen will then be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited such as
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An' all under one tree.
Then the assembled crowd will sing and shout and bang drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunsmen give a great final volley through the branches to make sure the work is done and then off to the next orchard.
The West Country is the most famous and largest cider producing region of the country and among the most historic wassails held annually are Whimple in Devon and Carhampton in Somerset both on 17 January (old Twelfth Night). There are now many new, commercial or "revival" wassails springing up all over the Westcountry such as those in Stoke Gabriel and Sandford, Devon. Clevedon (North Somerset) holds an annual Wassailing event in the popularly attended Clevedon Community Orchard, combining the traditional elements of the festival with the entertainment and music of the Bristol Morris Men and their cantankerous Horse.
Private readings about people in Somerset in the 1800s revealed that inhabitants of Somerset practised the old Wassailing Ceremony, singing the following lyrics after drinking the cider until they were "merry and gay:"
Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah,
Holler biys, holler hurrah.
A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the Apple Tree Man, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried gold.
Wassail bowls, generally in the shape of goblets, have been preserved. The Worshipful Company of Grocers made a very elaborate one in the seventeenth century, decorated with silver. [ citation needed ]It is so large that it must have passed around as a "loving cup" so that many members of the guild could drink from it.
In the British Christmas carol "Gloucestershire Wassail", the singers tell that their "bowl is made of the white maple tree, with a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee". As White maple does not grow natively in Europe, the lyric may be a reference to Sycamore maple or Field maple, both of which do, and both of which have white-looking wood. This is reinforced by an 1890s written account from a man describing his friend-from-Gloucestershire's wassailing bowl:
"The bowl was one of those wooden sycamore or maple ones used to hold boiled potatoes on a farm kitchen table."
Alternatively however, many formal publications from the 1800s list the lyric simply as saying "maplin tree", without mentioning "white".Additionally, the lyric appears to have varied significantly depending on location and other factors, calling into question how literal the term was and/or how varied construction of wassail bowls were. For example, a 1913 publication by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who had recorded the lyric in 1909 by a wassailer in Herefordshire , recorded it as "green maple". Another version from Brockweir listed the bowl as being made from the Mulberry Tree.
There are surviving examples of "puzzle wassail bowls", with many spouts. As you attempt to drink from one of the spouts, you are drenched from another spout. The drink was either punch, mulled wine or spicy ale.
Perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears, similar to the way cider is made from apples. It has been common for centuries in England, particularly in the Three Counties ; it is also made in parts of South Wales and France, especially Normandy and Anjou. It is also made in Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Wassail is a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
Cider apples are a group of apple cultivars grown for their use in the production of cider. Cider apples are distinguished from "cookers" and "eaters", or dessert apples, by their bitterness or dryness of flavour, qualities which make the fruit unpalatable but can be useful in cidermaking. Some apples are considered to occupy more than one category.
Carhampton is a village and civil parish in Somerset, England, 4 miles (6.4 km) to the east of Minehead.
Whimple is a village and civil parish in East Devon in the English county of Devon, approximately 9 miles (14 km) due east of the city of Exeter, and 3 miles (4.8 km) from the nearest small town, Ottery St Mary. It has a population of 1,642, recounted to 1,173 for the village alone in the United Kingdom Census 2011. The electoral ward with the same name had a population of 2,380 at the above census. It was listed in the Domesday Book as 'Winpla' which according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names was originally the name of the stream that runs through the village, a Brythonic Celtic name meaning 'white pool' being a compound of the British words corresponding to Welsh gwyn, 'white' and pwll, 'pool'. In DB there was a place called Wympelwell in parochia de Taleton referring to the spot where the stream rises in neighbouring Talaton parish. The village is centred on the largely 19th century village square and rebuilt Norman church. Through the square runs a small stream which is one of many local tributaries of the River Clyst, which in turn feeds into the Exe.
The Apple Wassail is a traditional form of wassailing practiced in the cider orchards of southern England during the winter. There are many well recorded instances of the Apple Wassail in the early modern period. The first recorded mention was at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as "howling". On Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to "bless" the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. Among the most famous wassail ceremonies are those in Whimple, Devon and Carhampton, Somerset, both on 17 January.
The ashen faggot is an old English Christmas tradition from Devon and Somerset, similar to that of the Yule log and related to the wassail tradition.
The Gower Wassail is a wassail song from Gower in Wales, UK. Wassailing is an ancient English Christmastime drinking ritual. The song is printed in A.L. Lloyd's book Folk Song in England (1967), having been heard from Phil Tanner. The song is English but in structure bears similarities to the Irish traditional song Here's A Health, which is in the same vein as The Liberty Song. Some of the lyrics closely resemble another popular wassailing song, 'Gloucestershire Wassail'
Here We Come A-wassailing is a traditional English Christmas carol and New Year song, dating from at least the mid 19th century,, but possibly much older. The old English wassail song refers to 'wassailing', or singing carols door to door wishing good health, while the a- is an archaic intensifying prefix; compare A-Hunting We Will Go and lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Apple Day is an annual celebration of apples and orchards, held in October. It is celebrated mainly in the United Kingdom. It traditionally falls on 21 October, the date of the first such event in 1990, but events are held throughout the month. It is commonly a weekend event, usually taking place on the Saturday and Sunday closest to 30 October.
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree is a poem, possibly intended for use as a carol, written in the 18th century. It has been set to music by a number of composers, including Jeremiah Ingalls (1764–1838), Elizabeth Poston (1905–1987) and John Rutter.
Nowell Sing We Clear is a four-member musical group that performs an annual yuletide concert series. They have also released a series of related albums.
The Whimple Wassail is an orchard-visiting wassail ceremony which takes place in the Devon village of Whimple annually every Old Twelfth Night. The Whimple Wassail was first mentioned by the Victorian author and folklorist Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould in his book Devon Characters and Strange Events.
The Redstreak, also spelt Redstrake, Red Streak or Red-streak, is or was a very old variety of cider apple formerly commonly planted in England.
The Yarlington Wassail is a Wassail held in the village of Yarlington, Somerset, England, and dating from the 17th century.
Cider in the United Kingdom is widely available at pubs, off licences, and shops. It has been made in regions of the country where cider apples were grown since Roman times; in those regions it is intertwined with local culture.
The Woodcock was one of the oldest described English varieties of cider apple. It originated in the West of England in the counties of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The Coccagee, also spelt 'Cackagee' or 'Cockagee' and sometimes known as the 'Irish Crab' or 'Lord Cork's Crab', is or was a variety of cider apple, known in Ireland and the West of England.
In English folklore, the Apple Tree Man is the name given to the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. Tales about the Apple Tree Man were collected by the folklorist Ruth Tongue in the cider producing county of Somerset. In one story a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard on Christmas Eve. He is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried gold, more than enough to pay his rent. In another tale a farm cat was curious to explore some fields that people avoided working because they were haunted by ghosts and witches. She set out one day and got as far as the orchard when the Apple Tree Man cautioned her to go back home, because folks were coming to pour cider for his roots and shoot guns to drive away the witches. He persuaded her not to go wandering around at night until St. Tibb's Eve, and she never did because she didn't know when St. Tibb's Eve is, nor did anyone else know.
The Gloucestershire Wassail, also known as "Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town", "The Wassailing Bowl" and "Wassail Song" is an English Christmas carol from the Gloucestershire region of England, dating back to at least the 18th century, but may be older.
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