LOT'S WIFE..Turn around..look back...see with new eyes

Monday, December 20, 2010

Here We Come A'Wassailing

The word Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse “'Ves heill” a toast meaning "be thou hale" or "be in good health". The tradition of wassailing is pre-Christian and far outdates the celebration of Christmas.

Lambswool was the traditional wassail drink used in the ceremony of blessing the ground around a home, farm or orchard.

Lambswool, or Lamb’s Wool, is either so called after the light colour and frothy appearance of the drink on the surface, or, it stems from being served at La mas ubal, that is, ‘The Day of the Apple Fruit’; and being pronounced lamasool, it was corrupted to Lambs Wool. It was an ale/cider mixed with spices and roasted apples.

The oldest ceremonies go back to Pagan times, seeking to start off the first stirrings of life in the land, and to help it emerge from winter – ensuring that the next season’s crop, (especially apples and pears in the orchard) would be bountiful. The purpose of Wassailing, in other words, is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits thus to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.

The ceremonies of each wassail varied from village to village but have core elements in common.

The most common date for this custom is Twelfth Night, the night of the 5th January, or on the ‘old’ 12th Night, January 17th – but it can vary as a tradition from one local area to the next, over the whole period of mid-winter.

A King and Queen of the Wassail led the proceedings, a song and/or a processional tune was played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen was lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she placed toast that has been soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup (made of rosemary wood) as a gift the tree spirits and to show them the fruits of what they created the previous year.

 Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.

Then an incantation was recited such as: "Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, three bags full,……..

Or,… "Wassail the trees, that they may bear / You many a Plum and many a Pear: / For more or less fruits they will bring, / As you do give them Wassailing."

Then the assembled crowd sung, shouted, and banged drums, and made a terrible racket and they went to the next orchard .(This practice carried over to the modern day New Year's practice of making noise to welcome the new year)

In the middle ages it was a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants. A method of charitable giving , to be distinguished from begging. During this time the peasants could demand gifts of the lords.

This point is made in the song "Here We Come A-Wassailing", when the wassailers inform the lord of the house that:

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before.

Good Master and good Mistress,
As you sit by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Are wandering in the mire.

We have a little purse
Made of ratching (stretchable) leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.

Call up the Butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer,
And the better we shall sing.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.

The lord of the manor would give food and drink to the peasants in exchange for their blessing and goodwill:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.

God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.

Wassailing is the background practice of the carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" :

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wassailing, in practice, was often coercive. In early New England wassailing was associated with rowdy bands of young men who would enter the homes of wealthy neighbors and demand free food and drink in a trick-or-treat fashion. If the householder refused, he was usually cursed, and occasionally his house was vandalized.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer

We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here

Carol is the derivation of the word wassail. It travels through the old French "caroler" and the Latin "choraula" to the Greek "choros", a circling dance often accompanied by singing and associated with dramatic performances, religious festivities and fertility rites.

The carol was a major element in popular celebrations to mark the passing of the winter solstice and the promise of spring. Carols existed long before Christianity. Eventually Christian lyrics were put to the ancient tunes.  And traveling from orchard to orchard changed to traveling from house to house waking the spirit with joyful noise and song.

 So, now that you understand the concept…gather your friends and family.

On twelfth-night, (either the new one on the 5th January or the old one on the 17th January) toast a thick slice of rustic bread and place it into the bottom of a communal bowl. Then pour in the prepared lambswool.

Take the bowl out into your back yard with friends and family, carrying lighted torches aflame, and pots and pans to beat with wooden spoons and sticks, (with more toast to hang in the branches of the trees and more cups of lambswool to drink and splash around to bless the area

Make noise and light, crying “wassail! wassail!” (or sing one of the many rhymes) to drive off the unwanted spirits of the old year – beat the trunks of the trees with the sticks and splash the trunks with a little Lamb’s Wool.

 After everyone present has taken a drink from the lambswool (from the communal wassail bowl) pour a little of the lambswool and soggy toast from the bowl into the ground around the roots of a tree and put further fresh pieces of toast, dipped in lambswool, into the branches as a token to the new spirits of the new year, and a nod to the old ways of doing things.

And this is what you might have to explain to the cops when the neighbors have complained about the drunken party at your house.


No comments:

Post a Comment