Posted by: Linda Proud | January 17, 2013

Hale to the Apples!

According to the old calendar 17th January is Twelfth Night and it’s the day when across rural England funny people come out to sing to the trees. You may not know about it for they often do it in the dark. The sap of our ancestors rises in our bones. This is, after all, when all is said and done, Middle Earth.

‘Wassail’ means ‘be in good health’. People used to go from house to house, carrying the wassail bowl  ‘made from the white maple tree’ and decorated with ribbons. In it a potent punch of ale, beer, wine, perry, mead and any other alcoholic beverage we’ve got from the trees and hedgerows, as well as eggs, cream, spices, toasted nuts and roasted apples, a rather sickly cross between mulled wine and egg nog.

In the etymology we find that the words hale and hail are related, health and hello! The historians root the custom back to the Anglo Saxons. The word wasshail appears in Beowulf, but that poem of the 8th century was a long time in the making, hundreds of oral years in the making. Wassail goes way back, back to the time when we knew how to honour Nature with gifts and sacrifices, when we felt gratitude and wished to give back. So at this time of the year we pour our libations of cider round the apple trees and keep enough to enjoy ourselves while Jack Frost pinches our toes and cheeks. It all goes back to the time when our gods were trees.

Wassail! And here’s to the Ash, may you be well. Wassail! And here’s to the Oak, may you be well.

After the sorry failure of our apple crops in 2012, the trees need all the encouragement they can get. We are wassailing the trees in the Community Orchard on Saturday – in the dark. You never know who may be looking.

Somewhere buried in even the silliest so-called ‘traditions’ is a kernel of something authentic. Watch for the offerings to the trees at the end of this:

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