Wassailing – The British Midwinter Blessing Custom
With legends going back over a millennia, Wassailing is a fascinating and colourful part of the folklore and traditions of Britain. From the Apple Wassails of Devon and Somerset, to the Doll Wassails of Yorkshire, this ancient blessing tradition has adapted itself to every level of society from agricultural workers to Lords, even featuring in four plots to murder the Monarch of the day. This book by Simon Reed, author of The Cornish Traditional Year, examines every aspect of Wassailing with the hope that it will inspire people to revive and enjoy this important tradition.
What is wassailing?
The purpose is to encourage the spirits into ensuring a good harvest the following season. It takes place on the twelfth night after Christmas and involves a visit to a nearby orchard for singing, dancing, drinking and general merrymaking.
The intention was to ward off bad spirits from the orchards whilst also pleasing the spirits of the fruit trees, to ensure a bountiful crop of fruit in the year ahead. The noisy banishing of spirits seems to bear a close relationship to the rural folk custom of Charivari, or skimmington ride, in which a wrongdoer would be shamed by a large group of people parading around their house, making loud and discordant music.
Another form the wassailing tradition took involved groups of revellers going from house to house to drink toasts and wish good health for the year ahead on the dwellers within. Indeed, the word ‘wassail’ is believed to be derived from the Old English ‘was hál’, meaning ‘be hale’ or ‘good health’.
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