Wassail – Waes Hael (be well)

Wassail – Waes Hael (be well)

Wassail – Waes Hael (be well)

Documented since 600 AD, this Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”, to which his followers would reply drink hael, or “drink well”.

Depending upon the area of the country where you lived, the wassail drink itself would generally have consisted of a warmed cider blended with spices, honey, perhaps an egg or two and toasted bread. It would be served in one huge bowl and passed from one person to the next with the traditional “wassail” greeting.
The wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. This ancient custom is still practised across the country today, and is particularly popular in the cider-producing areas of England, such as Herefordshire, Kent, Somerset, Devon and Sussex.

The celebrations generally involve a wassail King and Queen leading the assembled group of revellers, 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 as a gift to the tree spirits, the Queen places a piece of wassail-soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by songs such as;

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

The wassailers then move on to the next orchard; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns, making as much noise as possible in order to both waken the sleeping tree spirits, and also to frighten off any evil demons that may be lurking in the branches.

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