The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #116913   Message #1362269
Posted By: Tradsinger
21-Dec-04 - 06:16 AM
Thread Name: Folklore: Stupid Question but what is Wassail
Subject: RE: What is a wassail/wassailing?
Thanks for all your responses to this and it's interesting to see what the word wassail means to different people. Here's my take on it: the phrase is old English, probably over a millenium old and basically means "Good Health" or "Cheers". So its first meaning is as a toast. From that it got associated with Christmas/Yule and came to mean wishing good luck to the farm plants and animals, plus the farm owner for good measure.

In some versions it was a house to house tradition, and still is in parts of the English southwest. I find it interesting that the old Gloucestershire version sometimes included a representation of a cow or bull which they took from house to house. I'd like to think that some time in the past, the singers took a real cow or bull with them, but perhaps the logistics of that got too difficult!

Other versions are the static one - singing to the cider apple trees, and a good time is had by all - sounds very Devon or Somerset to me.

I'm not sure how the wassail bowl got into the tradition, but it is certainly central to the old Gloucestershire waysail, when it was decorated and paraded around the houses as a token, but not filled up with drink. The Gower version from South Wales meant taking a bowl around, but indeed getting it filled up with drink from house to house.

Also somewhere on the way, wassail became a recipe for hot punch. When? How?

I think that now the tradition is changing. The house to house idea no longer has the same meaning as communities are less close, but there is great appeal in getting together for a good sing song.

As I said before, the 'new' wassailing tradition is great so long as people realise that they are inventing local traditions not recreating them.

I think there is a lot more to wassailing than meets the eye, and it is a subject that has been under-researched. There are thoughts to hold a wassail conference weekend in England sometime, with talks/workshops and performance. Do you think there would be any support for that?

In the meantime,

Waes Hael to you all

Nadolig Llawen

Have a cool yule