Being a West Country lass you grow up learning traditions as quickly as you pick up the accent (I was once accused by my English teacher of writing with a Somerset accent).
I've celebrated the Wassail every year where ever I've been, but did you know it's where Christian Carolling comes from?
My childhood Wassailing involved Morris Dancers, lighted torches of the fire variety and late night excursions to the apple orchards, slightly different from the Anglo Saxon tradition which it's believed to have started with.
Wassail is a noun, used to greet someone wishing them good health by presenting them with a cup of drink (it doesn't have to be alcoholic, mulled apple juice is delicious). The Lord of the Manor would start the new year by greeting a crowd with a toast of "Waes hael" (be well or be in good health) who would then reply "Drink hael" (Drink well)
Depending on where you live the exact ingredients are different. On the whole, the Wassail" (drink) tends to be either warmed ale, wine or cider mixed with spices, honey and I've read sometimes eggs but I've never tried that so can't comment. You could try heating:
- 300g Sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon cloves
- 1 sliced root of ginger
- Rind of two lemons
- 1l orange juice
- 2l apple juice
When to celebrate
There is some confusion, wishing good health "Wassail" has been done on Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night (5th Jan) the Feast of Epiphany but I tend to follow the 'Old Twelvey' (17th Jan) which was the date used before the Gregorian calendar shuffled everything back 2 weeks in 1752. (I did learn something in History at school.)
How to celebrate
Wassailing for me is the rural practice of the blessing of the trees, following the Wassail King and Queen as part of a noisy procession through the orchards scaring away any evil demons and waking the sleeping tree spirits. Stopping at the largest tree where a Wassail soaked piece of bread is placed in the branches and a small amount of Wassail is poured around the base as an offering while singing.
"Wassail! wassail! all over the town, Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown; Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree; With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee."
There are a lot more verses! Which if you're interested, can be found by following this link Wassail Hymn
But how do the Christmas Carols come into it?
There is a second Wassail tradition, House wassailing occurred during the Middle Ages and involved the peasant folk making their way in groups from Manor house to Manor house being offered money, food and drink in return for the Wassail song. Over time this developed into the carol singing we know and love but with a lot less alcohol.
The late-night revelry of my teenage years has taken a back seat (for now) but I'm lucky to have a choice of two different celebrations I can get my lad to this year and the tree decorations are being prepared already.