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Wassailing

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Wassailing

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Wassailing is the practice of going door-to-door singing Christmas carols and requesting in return wassail or some other form of refreshment. In modern times it is most commonly known through reference in various traditional Christmas carols (e.g., "Here we come a-wassailing / among the leaves so green").

The practice however has its roots in the middle ages as a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient initiated charitable giving, to be distinguished from begging. This point is made in the song "Here We Come A-Wassailing", when the wassailers inform the lord of the house that

"we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbors whom you have seen before."

The lord of the manor would give food and drink to the peasants in exchange for their blessing and goodwill, i.e...

"Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year"

... which would be given in the form of the song being sung. Wassailing is the background practice against which a carol such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" can be made sense of.

The example of the exchange is seen in their demand for "figgy pudding" and "good cheer", i.e., the wassail beverage, without which the wassailers in the song will not leave, "we won't go until we get some."

In cider-producing areas of England, such as the West Country, wassailing also referred to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive.

An old rhyme goes: “Wassaile the trees, that they may beare / You many a Plum and many a Peare: / For more or lesse fruits they will bring, / As you do give them Wassailing.”

The Traditional Wassail Ceremony

Some scholars prefer a pre-Christian explanation of the old traditional ceremony of Wassailing. How far the tradition dates back is unknown but it has undeniable connections with Pagan ritual. Of recent times the word Wassail (from the Anglo-Saxon toast wæs þu hæl, "be thou hale" -- i.e., "be in good health") has come to be synonymous with Christmas but this is incorrect. The pre-christian tradition of wassailing far outdates the celebration of Christmas. Traditionally the Wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night (6th January). However most people insist on wassailing on 'Old Twelvey Night' (17th January) as that would have been the correct date before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. The purpose of Wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn. The cermonies of each wassail varies from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen to lead the proceedings, and song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen will be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast that has been soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift the tree spirits and to show them the fruits of what they created the previous year. Then an incantation is usually recited such as

Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full,caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!

Then the assembled crowd will sing and shout and bang drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunsmen give a great final volley through the branches to make sure the work is done and then off to the next orchard. Perhaps unbeknown to the general public, this ancient English tradition is still very much thriving today. The West Country is the most famous and largest cider producing region of the country and some of the most important wassails are held in Carhampton (Somerset) and Whimple (Devon).

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Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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