Last night I went with friends to a great Wassail evening at The Fleece in Bretforton in Worcestershire. The Fleece is a gorgeous old pub, built in the early 15th century. In 1977 it was bequeathed to the National Trust.....luckily it is still a good pub with good beer...without a National Trust Shop!
Wassails are a Pagan tradition that take place up and down the country. Arriving in the dark all you could see were characters with blacked faces, top hats, ribbons and the sounds of bells, music and shouts of 'Wassail' greeted by return with a 'Drinkhail' ! Wassail is an Anglo Saxon word for a toast of 'Be of good health'. The ceremony takes place around the oldest tree , with everyone hanging pieces of bread onto the branches, lots of singing, shouting and gunshots, all to bless the orchard and the noise to scare away evil spirits. The original meaning behind 'toasting someone '.
Toasting the Apple Tree
The wassail bowl was a part of medieval Christmas celebrations. A communal bowl filled with alcohol was passed from person to person with a wassail and a kiss.
The drink was called 'lamb's wool', hot ale, apple pulp , spices and sugar.
the following is a recipe from Food in England by Dorothy squires 1722.
Wassailers carried the bowl around the streets, singing songs, a bit like the forerunner of carol singers. In the south around the apple orchards people took the wassail bowl and blessed the trees with cake and toast dipped in cider and hung onto the branches of the apple trees. Gunshots fired into the branches both scared off evil spirits and took off a few dead branches.
Fire at the back of the apple orchard.
Apple orchards are now wassailed on any of the twelve days of Christmas. In Carhampton they wassail on the 17th January which is the date of the old Twelfth night. (Julian Calender) The Christian Twelfth night date is usually the 5th January.
It is a great way of carrying the spirit of Christmas into the middle of January.
Wassail, wassail all over the town,
Our toast is white and ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl,we'll drink to thee,
Small video of the tree - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQNpHwtRXic
Watch out for The Wolf Moon, a supermoon and lunar eclipse on the 21 January, peaking in the early hours.
Wassail bowl picture from https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/dining-entertaining/centerpieces/exceptional-17th-century-carved-english-wassail-bowl-figured-lignum-vitae/id-f_105416