Wassail!

My friend, Missy Dragon, informed me that the Allotment group of St Ann’s were going to miss out their wassailing because the usual fellow wasn’t there. 

So, in the way of daring me to do it, she asked if I’d be up for it.  What’s this? A British tradition being left out? Not on my watch meladdio!

So I managed to, very last minute, book the day off and get in contact with the organiser for the Children’s Activity Day.  She sent me an email with the wassailing song they normally do:

The Wassail Song

Old Apple tree we wassail the
And hope that thou wilt bear
For the Gods do know where we shall be
Come apples another year
To bloom well and to bear well
So merry let us be
Let everyone take off their hat and shout to the Old Apple Tree.

Spoken:
Old Apple tree we wassail thee
And hope that thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stair.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE OLD APPLE TREE:

Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

Erm, did you just say song? I don’t sing, shiiiiiiittttt! So I did my research and found the melody on YouTube:

Wassail – three cheers for the apple tree: http://youtu.be/eFF6ozduQ1A

For those not familiar, Wassailing  comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘Waes-Hael’ or ‘Good Health’.  The practices of it vary from place to place, county to county as does any of its songs.  It is normally practiced in January, in some places, 12th Night.

The one I got involved in had us sing the song, pour Apple juice on the roots, put toast onto the branches via my lovely ‘Toast Maidens’ and make lots of noise with pots and pans.  Yes, very good fun, but what’s it all for? Quite simply: to make the fruit trees give a good yield.
The pouring of juice (traditionally ale or cider with eggs in it, but it was a children’s event, so I used Apple juice instead) gives back nutrients into the ground.  The toast is to encourage birds to come to the tree, so that they’ll stay around and in spring spread the pollen with their wings and droppings, encouraging pollenation and growth. The noise allows the sound vibrations to go into the wood and somehow encourages the branches to become more productive.  At least, that’s as I understand it. I could have got this totally wrong however.

Other versions involve pissing and whacking the tree with sticks, some are done with a fire, the varients go on.

It was a sunny if cold day, but the small crowd of children and parents that followed seemed to enjoy it as we went to the Apple trees and caused lots of noise and joyful hullabaloo.  I only had time to learn the song on the way there, so I was very grateful for my friend, B. Turning up and lending her singing voice.  We all ended up singing the song to the tune of ‘ Oh Christmas Tree…‘ Because we made a joke about it, so we made it so.  We changed the lyrics to incorporate pear and cherry trees until we ran out of toast.  Then I told the local story, recorded by local storyteller Pete Castle, called the Watercress Girl.  This involved a young girl being hired by a witch to clean her house, but the girl ends up stealing from the witch (why? Why would she do that? Was she stupid?) And gets the fruit tree orchard in the Witch’s garden to lie to the witch so she could get away.  I thought it highly appropriate.

For my very first public Wassailing, I’d say it went well, I even got praised for it, but the real praise goes to Missy Dragon for telling me about this event in the first place.  Also to B. And her partner, for my Morris friends for coming along, the folks at STAA and the people who wanted to join in and of course to Pete Castle for the tale he put in his book.

If you fancy making traditional Wassailing drinkies, here’s the link:

http://nourishedkitchen.com/traditional-wassail-recipe/

And Pete Castle’s brilliant book is:

Nottinghamshire Folk Tales, The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2012 p.62.

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4 thoughts on “Wassail!”

  1. Reblogged this on The Druid's Well and commented:
    Reblogging partly so I can find this later. When I lived in NJ, instead of a birthday party, I will get together with friends and we would go Wassailing in a nearby orchard. I really miss those wintry days of singing in a horse voice with a steaming cup of cider in my hands.

    1. Awesome, thanks for reblogging! There’s definitely something magical about it whether its the cold vs. Hot cider, or giving something back.

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