Saturday 31 December 2011

Ye Traditional Wassail

We've been planning a Wassail, and being a bit of an urban chic hippy folky, I only had a vague idea it involved cider, making a noise, and possibly bearded men with bells.  So I did a bit of googling:

1860 Wassail Bowl Scene Moonlight Children John Gilbert
For history, Wikipedia was helpful dating it back to the 'Middle Ages' from southern England, christian celebration on the twelth night (6th Jan).  Other sources hint at a more general Germanic source, and pre-christian tree worship on the other twelth night, of pre Gregorian Calandar 1752 - (17th Jan), e.g.  this one, and ones here and here).
Thanks to Mister David

Wassail is a contraction of the Middle English phrase waes hael meaning literally 'good health', and most articles I read also refer to the 'Wassail bowl', filled with a mulled cider.  There are recipes for wassail, and some folk go further in suggesting particular woods needed for the turned wassail bowl, peculiarly Lignum Vitae from South America(?), or maple.

The art, and the music of Wassail tells of two different traditions merging slowly into one - a blessing of a significant apple tree, and door-to-door christmas carol singing, begging a sup of cider from the master.  See lyrics of the two most popular carols (of which there are many):

1856 London Twlefth Night Wassail Bowl Children Dog Party
Also hear the wonderful Kate Rusby singing one of them, or try youtube for range of folkies and others singing.

The Wassail Song

...We are not daily beggars 
That beg from door to door
But we are neighbours children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you
And to you your Wassail too,
And God bless you and send you 
A happy new year...

Gloucestershire Wassail

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee 

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek 
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef 
And a good piece of beef that may we all see 
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee...

Wassail hasn't entirely been subsumed into any religions, and being an 'English' tradition it has few champions, apart from an unholy alliance of cider drinkers, morris dancers and carol singers.  It's got a clearer message than other new year 'traditions', like fox hunting, Jools Holland and heavy drinking, so  here's wishing you all  WASSAIL!

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