Wassailing is an old tradition, dating back to the 14th century, with lots of variations in communities. It means “to your health” in Old English. Many communities in England still regularly hold January wassailing events.
|Evening Wassails may include bonfires (Finniver Farm &Cidery)|
Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted crab apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. It was served indoors from large bowls. After partaking of cider (wassail bowl has alcohol) and cake, people would go out into the orchard carrying an earthen-ware cup of cider and some cake.
The cake is soaked with cider and left in the tree branches for the birds. (Perhaps drunken birds sing louder and make the trees happier.)
|Tying bread crumbs in a tree to honor the robins (Finniver Farm & Cidery)|
A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the "Apple Tree Man", the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is said to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried treasure.
In modern times the wassail tradition has been used to promote a good harvest or good growth of other plants besides apples. Is there something in the garden or yard you need to give a little boost for the coming growing season?
Should you wish to make some wassail and bundle up to go into the garden, Colonial Williamsburg provides this recipe:
Links for more information
Colonial Williamsburg: Wassailing through History
Pennsylvania Colonial Plantation: Christmas at the Farm Video
Edwardian Wassail from Ronald Hutton's Orchard: Video
Why Christmas: Wassailing and Mumming