Old Apple Tree We Wassail Thee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wassail-Image-1It was an unusually mild January night amidst a long stretch of bone-chilling cold. Warm air blew in during the day raising temps to 45 degrees Fahrenheit…pretty warm for January 19th. This was last Saturday, the evening of our 1st annual wassailing ceremony. ‘Waes hael’ is an Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘to wish well’, or ‘to wish whole’. Orchard wassailing is an old English tradition where each year around January 17th (The Old Twelfth Night) people gather together to perform a ceremony in honor of the apple trees. The ceremony is meant to promote the health of the trees and to ensure a bountiful harvest in the coming season. This age-old custom is still practiced until this day, particularly in England and throughout the British Isles. With apples being a cornerstone to British culture, this tradition was at the center of seasonal festivities and followed the celebration of Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Serving mulled cider to the group…

The ancient earth rite begins with the group gathering in a circle around the largest or most significant tree in the orchard, known as The Apple Man, which is meant to represent the rest of the orchard treesfrom there the butler, or ‘king’, brings forth a piece of toasted bread; the master, or ‘queen’, then takes the bread, dips it into mulled cider(which all ceremony participants are given), and then hangs the bread on a fruiting spur of the chosen tree. The cider-soaked bread is an offering to the robins, which are thought to be guardians of the orchard. A proper toast is then given and everyone drinks to the tree. The ceremony comes to a finale as the group sings a wassailing song. Everyone bangs on pots and pans, drums, and tambourines to ward off any evil spirits that might be dwelling in the tree and the ceremony is concluded. After researching numerous wassailing traditions and songs, I synthesized this version:

Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
’til apples come another year
to bear well and to bloom well, and so
merry let us be
Let every man take off his hat
And shout to the old apple tree
(Repeat twice more)
Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
Hats full,
Caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
And a little heap under the stairs.
Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray!
Hip, Hip, Hooray!

That’s a basic overview of one wassailing ceremony; there are many, many slight variations and each has its place in a different locality. The beauty is that it can be adapted to any place, and although there are some general guidelines, anybody can do it anywhere. For me it seemed like a custom worth integrating into our community, and in a very real sense we are only RE-integrating, as a lot of us trace our ancestry to places like the British Isles and other European countries. I speak on behalf of many when I say there is a major hunger for connection in our modern, technologically-rampant culture. There is a hunger for connection to place, there is a hunger for connection to community, and there is a hunger for connection to our customs and traditions which have been stripped away over the last 300+ years. I see it all around me as full moon potlucks, skill share groups, harvest parties, and other community celebrations once again become common. After all, how can something so central to human existence be left behind?

Our first annual wassailing ceremony was met with great interest as 20+ friends and fellow apple-lovers came out to celebrate. We started the evening around 5:30 with the ceremony and a large bonfire in the orchard followed by a lovely potluck indoors. The evening went on with drumming, delicious and seasonally appropriate food and drink, and many wonderful conversations and laughs. Simple gatherings like these bring us closer together as a community and feed the deep hunger within—the hunger for connection.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s