Wassailing is Anglo-Saxon in origin and gets its name from ‘waes hael’ meaning ‘be well’, a toast proposed by the local Lord to the assembled crowds. Said crowds would then dutifully shout back ‘drink hael’ (drink well)!
The correct date forwassail celebrations is a matter of debate. 12thNight (5thJan) is a strong contenderthese days, butsome traditionalists still prefer ‘Old Twelvey’ (17thJan) which was the ‘true’ 12thNight untilintroduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 messed up the counting of days. At SJPwe will split the differenceand celebrateon 12th January, after the 11.00am Eucharist.
The wassail itself is a drink fit to stave off the winter chill, consisting of warm ale or cider with spices (ginger, nutmeg), honey and sometimes an egg or even cake or toast, served in a hugewassail bowl and passed from person to person.
According to Historic UK: ‘There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed.’ *House wassailing continued into the Middle Ages and provided an opportunity for feudal lords to demonstrate goodwill to the wassailers in the form of money and food. This evolved intocarolling (think ‘we all want some figgy pudding, so bring it right here!’to see the wassailing rootsof traditional carols). Tree wassailing involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees, in the hope of a bountiful harvest later in the year, and is still practised across the country, particularly in cider producing areas. Historic UK again: ‘The celebrations....generally involve a wassail King and Queen leading the assembled group ofrevellers, comprising the farmers, farm workers and villagers, in a noisy procession from one orchard to the next. In each orchard the wassailers gather round the biggest and best tree.... and placea piece of wassail soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by singing.’ Banging of pots and pans,shoutingand firing of shotguns are also often the order of the day.
In the absence of a cider orchard in Piccadilly, we will celebrate with wassail, singing and story by the mulberry tree just outside the west doors of the church. Every year this tree produces a bountiful harvest in August which often goes unnoticed by the Sunday community.The tree will help focus our attention (with gratitude) on our intimate and immediate relationship with the land and the food it provides, at the start of a year when many UK harvests are predicted to be down as a result of an unusually wet sowing season last Summer.
Much continues to be said about our need for better planetary stewardship in the face of environmental crisis. Perhaps one of the barriers to better stewardship is limited understanding of our place in the earthly system and our absolute dependence on the life processes going on all around us.
This year’s eco church programme of Liturgy, Learning and Living Lightly aims to develop that understanding and celebrate our belonging in this place. Or to put it another way: the more we know our patch (and ourselves as part of it), the more we are able to value it. We’ll be in the Southwood Garden regularly across the year – a fortnight after wassailing we take part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and on 9 Feb everyone is welcome to our bio-recording training daywhere you can expect to get up close and personal with a wide variety of creatures with more (or less) legs thanus. Our outdoor eco-contemplative liturgies continue at 9.45 every 4th Sunday of the month. And later in the year we celebrate rogation-tide by beating the bounds of the parish, then the season of creation and harvest.
Please join us! And in the meantime,waes hael in 2020!*