In a previous post I shared the practice of "telling the bees" - here's another old custom along the same line, which is the practice of "telling the trees" at the Solstice celebrations, in essence, thanking them for their bounty and generosity, and sharing the celebration with them.
I love that!
Although Wassail is popularly a spiced cider drink, often with brandy added and served hot, originally it meant the Yuletide custom of singing to the trees, in particular, the orchard of apple trees. The spiced cider also was offered in ancient honor to the trees for their generosity, and around the time of the Solstice, wassailers would prepare traditional wassail – soaking pieces of bread, cake or toast in it – and travel from apple orchard to apple orchard singing and talking to the trees, in order to ensure a good harvest for the coming year. Wassail-soaked pieces of bread or toast were then buried at the trees’ roots or hung in the trees’ branches to appease the tree spirits and feed them well until the next harvest.
Like the Romans' offerings and small farm shrines dedicated to the "Numina", the spirits of place that assisted them with their crops and orchards (the indigenous Roman Goddess Pomona, whose name meant "apple", originated as a Numen), this custom, which is still practiced with a lot of good cheer in some rural areas of England, reflects that ancient pagan sense of "reciprocity" with an intelligent, spiritually inhabited natural world.
I read that our habit of "toasting" may go back to Wassail revelries. "Waes hael" revelers would say, from the Old English term meaning "be well". Eventually "wassail" referred less to the greeting and more to the drink.The contents of the Wassail bowl varied, but a popular one was known as 'lambs wool'. It consisted of hot ale, roasted crab apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of toast. It was the toast floating on the top that made it look like lamb's wool. The toast that was traditionally floated atop the wassail eventually became our "toast" - when you hold up your glass and announce, “Let’s have a toast,” or ”I’ll toast to that,” you’re remembering this very old ritual of floating a bit of toast in spiced ale or mulled wine or wassail in celebration.
Wassailing – visiting neighbors (and much appreciated, friendly trees), singing carols and sharing warmed drink – is a tradition related to the Winter Solstice with ancient roots indeed.
I found a good Wassail recipe, which I've taken the liberty of sharing at the end of this post. I don't know if I'll be going out to sing to the Saguaros this Solstice, but who knows what I might end up doing if I drink enough Wassail with brandy. Huzzah! Happy Wassailing!
|Photo by Martin Beebee|
Compiled in The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
From the South Hams of Devon, recorded 1871:
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza!
From Cornworthy, Devon, recorded 1805:
Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stores
That the bags and chambers and house run o'er.