So when we visited Somerset England this last May, at the Royal Bath and West Show they had a demonstration of a wassail. Above is the Wassail song being sung, and below is the Wassail dance.
Here they are the next day doing it in a torrential downpour.
I thought it was kind of dorky but then found out more about the tradition of it. We went to the Cider Museum in Taunton where there was this poster about it.
And I purchased this book at Hay-on-Wye so I could get a good description of it.
Per this book “Wassail comes from a couple of Saxon works meaning ‘good health’. Good health to both the apple trees and the cider drinkers. The party at Norton Firzwarren generally numbers several hundreds of cider devotees, who assemble a large marquee and drink mulled cider, or Wassail punch, piping hot. Thus fortified they venture into the orchard, where frost is being dispelled by a leaping bonfire. A group of burly Somerset lads hoist a Wassail Queen upon their shoulders. Her duty is to lodge an offering of toast soaked in cider in a fork of each of the apple trees and pour a libation of cider around the trunk. Behind her marches a firing-squad of farmers with muzzle-loading guns, with which they discharge volleys through branches. Musicians with a collection of antique brass instruments, led by an accordion, strike up the Wassailing Song, in which everyone joins. Then three lusty cheers before moving on to the next tree. ”
Later it mentions that “the soaked toast was wedged into the branches specifically for the robins… considered sacred birds in ancient mythology”. “The firing of the volley into the branches if that it drives away evil spirits”.
So I would like to have a Wassail in our orchard this next year. Per this book it should occur on January 16 (which is the date decided upon after the English finally adopted the Gregorian calendar), but per Wikipedia it should be on January 17 which is a Saturday and more convenient for us so I am choosing that day for our wassail. We will have plenty of hard cider to drink, appetizers (some warm), a shelter (in case it rains), lights to the orchard and a bonfire. A neighbor who specializes in party bonfires will help burn a large stump in our orchard for this. I have downloaded wassail songs onto my iPod but will need someone with musical talent (I have none) to help lead the wassail song and perhaps have instruments. I will make Wassail Punch, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The Wassail Queen should be on the smaller side as we do not have burly Somerset lads. We will do the cider soaked toast and pour some cider around the tree but not all 100 of them, perhaps a select few traditional cider apple trees. Have not figured out how to do the volleys through the branches. We may use fire works instead. It might be safer than bullets.
So if you would like to participate and help our cider orchard flourish (and enjoy hard cider on a dark winter’s evening) please let me know and save the date. The more, the merrier.