I love Mondays and the fresh starts that they bring each week. This morning, while I organize my notes and pictures from a weekend visit to the New York Gift Fair (in preparation for sharing later today) I hope you enjoy Studio’g’s newest contributor’s first post. Jen Sundeen is one my dearest friends and partners in crime. We are going to spend this year exploring all manner of earth based celebrations, recreating them where we can, attending them, documenting them and bringing you along for the fun. The hope is that trough this exploration we will, ourselves, have more than a few great stories and adventures to share, and that we will inspire you to also use ancient and cultural rituals and seasonal celebrations to enrich your own lives and help you to have a greater connection to the natural world around you. This isn’t a religious experiment, and while there are lots of beliefs tied into this, our goal is to learn about history and many cultures, to highlight land based ceremonies and wisdom and generally keep the focus on those things whose origins are based in agriculture and seasonality. If we missed something that you think we should share, let us know in an email (we are always up for discovering something new!). We are calling it Kiss the Earth and the first post is about Wassailing.
It was a cold moonless January night, the snow barely blanketing the frozen earth. We solemnly stole our way out to the ancient apple tree, standing alone amidst a circle of candles. The dried gourd from last year’s harvest held hot mulled cider, its steamy breath warming the air. The bread was dipped in the cider and gently hung on the branches. And then, without warning, a great howl filled the air. The wild ruckus had begun…
OK, in truth, it was a new apple tree, two years young, and in truth, the ruckus was just a few of us moms and kids, laughing and dancing, but it was Wassail after all, and anything goes on this fabulous mid-Winter’s eve.
A ritual that began a long time ago in the days of old Great Britain, Wassail is a fertility festival that is meant to awaken the trees from their slumber and ensure a fruitful year ahead. Blending it’s pagan roots with later Christian celebrations, it is part of the Yule festival and celebrated on Twelfth Night, January 5th, or in some places as late as January 17. It is a time of revelry, of merry-making, marking the true end of the holiday season.
The word ‘wassail’ is a toast meaning ‘a drink to your health’ or ‘in good health,’ the Saxon equivalent of ‘cheers’ or ‘salut.’ It later came to be known as the warm spiced drink such as mulled cider or spiced wine used to toast the health of apple trees for the upcoming year. Both traditionally – and even today – in villages across the globe, Wassail enthusiasts gather around an old apple tree in January. A wassail bowl is filled with warm cider or wine. Evil spirits are warded off with shouts and howls, gunshots or the banging on kettles. The spirits of robins and other small birds are fed by dipping bread into the warm cider and placing them in the crooks of branches. Cider is poured onto the roots of the apple tree in honor of the upcoming year’s harvest. Mummers’ plays, a crowned king and queen, singing, music, dancing, costumes, and great bonfires are all part of the revelry.
While our first attempt at the Wassail celebration was rather…interpretive, to say the least, it sure was fun to empty the gourds and mull the cider and dance around the tree and howl in the wind. No doubt the thousands of apple trees in our village awoke that night, and we’re pretty sure the bountiful harvest that’s undoubtedly coming will be on account of our debauchery. We’ll be sure to report back at harvest-time this September. – Jen
Jen is preparing an ‘In the garden With….’ post so that you can all get to know her a little bit better, but until then, make sure to visit the writers page as I have just updated it to include her bio! -Rochelle
images by Rochelle Greayer, and from real cider and ceremonial magic.