** Saturday Wassail in the allotments behind the prison off Bishop Rd in Bristol 2-4pm **
Wassailing refers, among other things, to the practice of singing to trees in apple orchards in cider-producing regions of England. Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter and often passed around the room to be shared – known as the Loving Cup. The Wassail bowl would be passed around with the greeting, ‘Wassail’.
Wassail gets its name from the Old English term “waes hael”, meaning “be well”. It was a Saxon custom that, at the start of each year, the lord of the manor would shout ‘waes hael’. The assembled crowd would reply ‘drinc hael’, meaning ‘drink and be healthy’.
As time went on, the tradition was carried on by people going from door to door, bearing good wishes and a wassail bowl of hot, spiced ale. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas fare (special foods eaten during Christmas time e.g. mince pies) and they believed they would receive good luck for the year to come.
The contents of the bowl varied in different parts of the country, but a popular one was known as lambs wool. It consisted of ale, baked apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of bread or toast. It was the bread floating on the top that made it look like lamb’s wool.
Apple tree wassailing is a ceremony which involves drinking to the health of the apple trees.
The Apple trees were sprinkled with wassail to ensure a good crop. Villagers would gather around the apple trees with pots and pans and made a tremendous racket to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirit and to scare off demons.
The biggest and best tree was then selected and cider poured over its roots. Pieces of toast soaked in cider were placed in the forks of branches. The wassail song was sung or chanted as a blessing or charm to bring a good apple harvest the following year.
This custom was especially important during a time when part of a labourer’s wages was paid in apple cider. Landlords needed a good apple crop to attract good workers. Wassailing was meant to keep the tree safe from evil spirits until the next year’s apples appeared.
Thanks to Woodland Junior School in Kent for that info!