The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #116913   Message #1361204
Posted By: Tradsinger
19-Dec-04 - 12:23 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Stupid Question but what is Wassail
Subject: Thoughts on wassailing
I note that at this time of year, lots of people go to a "wassail", but does anyone (apart from traditional groups such as Bodmin) goes "wassailing"? The reason I ask this is that there are 2 versions of the wassailing tradition - one is a house-to-house, very much like carol singing, and the other is in one place, such as an orchard where the assembled company sing to the cider-apple trees. The tradition where I live (Gloucestershire) used to be very much the former, and all the tradition versions I have recorded from old singers are about "going wassailing", or "waysailing" as they usually pronounce it, and was a house-to-house custom. I notice that now in Gloucestershire and elsewhere, people are holding "wassails", which is more the static, singing to the trees type. Nothing wrong with that as everybody has a good time and lots of singing is done. What worries me slightly is that people will come to think that that is the old Gloucestershire wassailing tradition, which it isn't, although it is very much how it's done in other parts of England.

I will be going aroung before Christmas in a local village with a group of carollers and we will be carrying the wassail bowl, decorated with holly and other plants, and we will also take around "The Broad", a sort of representation of a cow, with eyes that glow in the dark! This to me is more akin to the old custom.

I have a theory that wassailing is our oldest English custom, much older than morris. The word itself is yonks old and wassailing gets referred to in lots of old literature. I am surprised that the word does not turn up in Scandanavian folklore - unless someone out there knows better! The only Celtic equivalent I know of wassailing is the Welsh Mari Lywd, some versions of which have the word wassail in the song.

Anyone, a few points to ponder there. What do other Mudcatters do or think of wassailing?


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