Wassailing: England’s Apple Tree Pep Talk

For most of my life, wassailing was just something that popped up in Christmas song lyrics, like “Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too” or “Here we come a-wassailing.” But as long as we’re talking unusual Christmas traditions, we thought that on the Fourth Day of Imported Christmas, we’d share the joy of wassailing in its ancient form.

Well, two forms actually.  The first should be pretty familiar, since it is quite similar to our modern caroling. On Twelfth Night (January 5th, or January 17th if you’re talking pre-Gregorian calendar), groups would travel around to their neighbors with a large wassail bowl singing and spreading cheer (and receiving figgy pudding).  It’s all very festive, and who wouldn’t want a free concert with spiced apple cider?

In more rural areas, though, wassailing is a little more pagan and a lot more exciting.

When your livelihood depends on the production of your fruit trees, you are motivated to help them do well. So each year on twelfth night, rural villages in parts of England throw a pep rally for their fruit trees. A wassail king and queen are selected, who then lead the villagers around to each orchard to bless the trees. The goal of this blessing is twofold: to wake the tree up from it’s winter nap to begin preparing for the coming spring, and to scare away any evil spirits that may be lurking.

 

The scaring is done by banging pots and pans, shooting shotguns, and generally making an ear-splitting ruckus. We still need to figure out how to warn our neighbors so they don’t call the police when we wassail.

The blessing is done by placing a piece of wassail-soaked toast in the tree and singing a song similar to this:

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

We assume this reminds the apple tree that if it does a good job, there will be juice and cider and wassail next year too, and isn’t it just delicious? Go tree go!

We will definitely be wassailing this year. Thanks to Gordon’s homemade apple grinder and press, we always have lots of delicious cider from my parents’ apple trees. I can only assume that with a little encouragement and pot-banging, next year will be the best harvest yet.

Twelve Days of Imported Christmas

  1. The First Day: Tió de Nadal: Catalonia’s Pooping Christmas Log
  2. The Second Day: Kentucky for Christmas: Japan’s Festive KFC
  3. The Third Day: Speculaas: Netherlands’ Quintessential Christmas Cookies
  4. The Fourth Day: Wassailing: England’s Apple Tree Pep Talk
  5. The Fifth Day: Jolabokaflod: Iceland’s Literary Flood

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