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Christmas A to Z

Learn interesting, unusual, unique and useful facts and tips about Christmas and the winter holiday season, in America and around the world.

Is Wassailing Designed to Produce More Apples or Good Cheer?

W

assailing refers to a tradition dating back to the middle ages of using song to wish "good cheer" on listeners. What you may not know is that part of this history involved singing to trees.

The earliest version of wassailing was to convince apple trees to keep doing their thing during the next year. Cider was often the beverage of choice when the local water supply was questionable. So, back in Jolly Old England the folks in the apple growing regions would hold wassailing festivals to thank their trees for being so productive – and to encourage them to do even more next year.

Of course it had early pagan origins, but it did happen during the end of the crop year – not really all that far from Christmas, and whole villages would turn out to wish the trees in local orchards "Waes Hail" or "be you healthy" while they were drinking wassail – a hot mulled, (optionally) slightly alcoholic, cider that is still popular today.

Change focus now to Victorian England and think of the carol that goes:

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

REFRAIN:
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Hoping that the gentry would be in better spirits than Ebenezer Scrooge, bands of folk of lesser circumstances would wander the streets of London at Christmastime and offer to sing carols in exchange for a cup of wassail.

That has evolved to, on this side of the pond, house parties or a variation on progressive dinners.

Food Network’s Alton Brown has an interesting wassail recipe if you’re interested.

Written by Dianne Weller
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