As a word wassailing comes from Anglo Saxon and means ‘be in good health’ and is synonymous with Christmas. Wassail is also an ale based drink seasoned with spices and honey.
There are two types of wassailing – home wassailing and orchard wassailing.
Home wassailing involving the singing of carols at people’s houses around Christmas in return for food and drink and is celebrated in such carols as “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New New” which includes the lines about ‘figgy pudding’ and we won’t go until we get some’ etc.
On the other hand Orchard Wassailing was celebrated on 12th Night – which before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar fell on the 17th January. It involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees. The aim is to ward off evil spirits. There is a Wassail King and Queen to lead a procession and the singing. The Queen then ‘lifts the boughs’ which involves toasting bread soaked in ‘wassail’ as a gift to the tree sprits. A crowd then bangs drums and makes a lot of noise whilst a gun is fired into the tree.
Here are a couple of photos by Mark Lakeman of the wassailing at Parke’s orchard in 2013.
Photos from this year’s wassail at Parke should appear in due course on the National Trust Parke Facebook site