We’re just about to celebrate our third annual Pleasley Wassail and a number of people in the village and surrounding area have asked me what wassailing is. So, here’s a little post to try and explain what it is, where it comes from, what happens in a wassail, and why it’s a great community event for everyone…
Wassailing has a bit of hazy past in that some claim it has very ancient roots way into the pre-Christian times, whilst others claim it’s a relatively recent innovation over the past few hundred years, which died out almost in the 20th Century but is experiencing a revival these days as ecological issues are arising from our disconnection with the landscape. I go with the latter as the evidence is simply not there for the former, though it has to be acknowledged that humans were very much more in touch with the landscape in the past than in the 21st Century, and the concept of blessing landscapes has been a part of many of the world’s religions from ancient times.
The word “wassail” itself derives from the old Anglo-Saxon, “was hael”, which is a wishing of good health and blessing upon someone or something. Blessing means to ask the Creator to bring about the fullness of being in whoever or whatever is being blessed.
In Christian traditions, bread and wine are blessed at the Eucharist / Communion, but we bless people and the landscape at Rogatiantide (when the tradition of beating the bounds of the parish is enacted). Some churches in rural communities have plough blessings and some (eg St Barnabas’, here in Pleasley) even hold pet services where people can bring their pets for a blessing.
Wassailing usually takes place in January on or around 12th Night, which is 5th January, or if you’re using the pre-Gregorian reckoning, 17th January (Old Twelfth Night). However, we’ve decided to carry out the wassailing March when hopefully the weather will be warmer and drier.
There are two traditions of wassailing which exist:
- The first is where people go carolling from door-to-door.
- Based in an orchard, where the health of the orchard is the main focus, moving between orchards in the area.
We follow the general pattern of the orchard-based wassail, but don’t go from orchard to orchard as we only know of one in the village.
Part of the wassailing involves the pouring of cider into the roots and toast into the branches of the trees. This provides nutrition the tree, helping it to grow, as well as providing food for the birds, which also peck off insects that can damage the trees. We then utter a quick blessing over the tree, and also the beehives.
Community singing forms part of the wassailing too, usually with traditional songs such as “Here we come a wassailing” and “Oh apple tree, we wassail thee“. The latter is done around the oldest apple tree in the orchard. Some areas of the country have the name “Apple Tree Man” for this particular tree, and we have adopted our own Apple Tree Man which straddles the Orchard and the allotments. Everyone brings pots and pans which are banged and everyone has a good old noise making time before a volley of shotguns are fired into the branches, , allegedly to scare away the evil spirits hanging around in the orchard.
All in, we’re asking for good health for all of the landscape, its plants, animals and people. When you bless, you become blessed – it’s just one of those things which happens!
A three-handled wassail cup, filled with a mulled apple-based beverage, together with apple cake (including gluten-free options) is shared around for everyone to enjoy, followed by further hot & cold beverages and nibbles, and a good old natter with neighbours and friends.
All in, this is a wonderful time where we can become more connected to the landscape we’re a part of, realising that we have the power to use words and actions to bring hope and healing, to our community, both human and otherwise.
Remember to wrap up warm and bring pots/pans and wooden spoons / rattles – anything which makes a noise!
For more details of this year’s wassailing, see the poster on our Upcoming Events page.