Wassailing the Apple Trees
Wassailing the Apple Trees. Richard Gillin / flickr.com / 2009 / CC BY-SA 2.0
Apple Trees will be wassailed tonight in Carhampton, Somerset, as part of a centuries if not millennia old tradition of wassailing across England.
Wassailing provided a fun evening and a time for revelry after Christmas and New Year were over and the dark, cold nights of winter had set in. Traditionally, it was mostly done by men in high spirits, into the high spirits themselves.
The Apple Trees were toasted with apple cider. The apple cider used of course was "real" Apple Cider: the kind that North Americans now call "hard" (i.e. alcoholic.)
A Wassail Bowl full of cider was carried out to the orchard for the tree, in addition of course to the cups that the men carried for themselves. You didn't Wassail every tree in the orchard; you picked the oldest one and gathered around it. A piece of toast made from white bread would be dipped in the Wassail Bowl, and placed either on the roots or in the branches of the tree to attract good spirits. One of several possible Wassail songs would be sung, sometimes several times as the crowd got into the swing of things. Then, the cider in the Wassail Bowl would be poured over the roots of the tree, and the men would truck back to the house for more fun and merry-making.
It was recorded in Kent in 1585 as being done by the teenage men of the villages. In Devonshire, the tradition was that when the men came back to the house, the women would have some special type of meat roasting for the men as suited this festive occasion. Whatever the weather, though, the women wouldn't allow the men back into the house until they could guess what it was the women were roasting. The man who finally guessed would get the choicest piece that year, and, no doubt, the gratitude of his fellow Wassailers if freezing rain had been coming in sideways.
In other traditions, people or animals were Wassailed.
In the old, Julian calendar, Wassailing the Apple Trees used to be done on Twelfth Night, January the 6th.
On Wednesday, 3 September 1752, the calendar was advanced by 11 days, so that suddenly, it was the 14th of September in the Gregorian calendar.
In some parts of England, such as West Sussex, wassailers have stuck with the date of January 6th, keeping wassailing part of Twelfth Night.
Since the 1930s, the locals have settled on the 17th of January as their date. The festivities take place in an orchard next to the Butcher's Arms pub.
Literature & Lore
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be.
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs
Hip! Hip! Horray! -- Somerset Wassail Song
Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza! -- Devonshire Wassail Song
Placing toast in apple tree branches. Glyn Baker / geograph.org.uk / 2007 / CC BY-SA 2.0
All January food days
- 1: New Year's Day
- 2: Oatmeal Day
- 2: St Macarius's Day
- 4: Spaghetti Day
- 5: Bean Day
- 5: Twelfth Night
- 5: Whipped Cream Day
- 6: Epiphany
- 6: Shortbread Day
- 7: Fannie Farmer Cookbook
- 8: Elvis Presley's Birthday
- 8: Plough Monday
- 9: Apricot Day
- 11: Milk Day
- 12: Marzipan Day
- 14: Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day
- 15: Strawberry Ice Cream Day
- 17: St Anthony's Day
- 17: Wassailing the Apple Trees
- 19: Popcorn Day
- 20: Cheese Day
- 22: Blonde Brownie Day
- 23: Pie Day
- 24: Eskimo Pie Day
- 24: Peanut Butter Day
- 25: Robbie Burns Day
- 26: Australia Day
- 27: Chocolate Cake Day
- 29: Potato Day
- 30: Croissant Day
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