Saturday, December 22, 2012

LID: A-Wassailing We Will Go

Carol Singing by Herry Lawford

December 20

Go Caroling Day

What would Christmas be without carolers and our favorite songs? Caroling is unique to the Christmas season in that no other American holiday do songs proclaim the day approaching. Caroling is not an old American tradition. It began in the 19th century but does have some roots firmly planted older than that.   In traditional caroling, carolers gather in a group and go door to door. At each stop they sing a variety of carols, wish the occupants Merry Christmas the go to the next house. This continues until all the houses on the carolers path have been sung too. Before there was caroling there was wassailing. 


Have you ever sung this song?

Here we come a-wassailing 
Among the leaves so green; 
Here we come a-wand'ring 
So fair to be seen. 
Love and joy come to you, 
And to you your wassail too; 
And God bless you and send you 
a happy New Year.

Have you ever sung that song and wondered what wassailing is?

 Wassailing is a pre-christian ceremony with roots in Anglo-Saxon heritage.  William Sandy wrote in his 1853 book entitled Christmas-tide:

"The wassail bowl, of which the skull of an enemy would thus appear to have formed their beau idéal, is said to have been introduced by them. Rowena, the fair daughter of Hengist, presenting the British king, Vortigern, with a bowl of wine, and saluting him with “Lord King Wass-heil;” to which he answered, as he was directed, “Drine heile,” and saluted her then after his fashion, being much smitten with her charms. The purpose of father and daughter was obtained; the king married the fair cup-bearer, and the Saxons obtained what they required of him.

This is said to have been the first wassail in this land; but, as it is evident that the form of salutation was previously known, the custom must have been much older among the Saxons; and, indeed, in one of the histories, a knight, who acts as a sort of interpreter between Rowena and the king, explains it to be an old custom among them.

By some accounts, however, the Britons are said themselves to have had their wassail bowl, or lamb’s wool — La Mas Ubhal, or day of apple fruit — as far back as the third century, made of ale, sugar (whatever their sugar was), toast and roasted crabbs, hissing in the bowl; to which, in later times, nutmeg was added.

The followers of Odin and Thor drank largely in honor of their pagan deities; and, when converted, still continued their potations, but in honor of the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and Saints; and the early missionaries were obliged to submit to this substitution, being unable to abolish the practice, which afterwards degenerated into drinking healths of other people, to the great detriment of our own. Strange! that even from the earliest ages, the cup-bearer should be one of the principal officers in the royal presence, and that some of the high families take their name from a similar office."

During the Middle Ages Saxon lords would go door to door giving food and drinks to his peasants in exchange for their blessings. This is where the followins lines come from: 

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year

The peasants would deliver their blessings over the lord in song. 

As time passed so did the custom of wassailing.  People would make a hot bowl of wassal and go door to door spreading good cheer to their neighbors, friends and family. These sponteanous vistors were thought to bring good luck to the household for the New Year. The visitors would travel from home to home singing, causing merryment and sharing their hot wassal. Thus the caroling tradition was born. 

Although wassaling has generally been associated with Christmastime, wassaling was traditionally held on the Twelfth Night. The Twelfth Night was the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Orchard Wassailing

Another pre-Christian wassailing tradition, known as orchard wassailing, was conducted on January 7th. This ceremony was used to war off bad spirits from the apple tree so that the apple trees could produce a good harvest in the upcoming year. You can see what an orchard wassailing entailed by watching this video. 

Orchard Wassailing is still practiced on some farms in England who try to maintain old English customs. 

What's In A Wassal?
Here are some wassal recipes from England for you try this holiday season. 

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