On Saturday 14th, the Greenwood group were invited to demo some of our ’skills’ at the Trumpington Community Orchard Wassail and to join in the celebrations.
Wassailing refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards usually in cider-producing regions, drinking (with mulled cider, which is called wassail), reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year and scare away evil spirits. The word is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon greeting “wes þú hál”, that is “be thou hale” and the correct response is “Drinc hæl”.
All wassail ceremonies have the same core elements: A wassail King and his Queen to lead the singing: The placing of toast soaked in warm wassail on a tree’s branches as a gift to the tree spirits: Incantations are recited and then the wassailers sing and shout and bang drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunsmen (if health and safety permit and the correct risk assessment forms have been filled in) give a great final volley through the branches in order to scare off any evil spirits that may still be lurking about.
On arrival in Trumpington, we were rewarded with some wild cherry cut that morning, which Kate, Matt and Mike carved into spoons and kuksas and Tony turned into chair parts. Jim ‘the leader’ McVittie demonstrated bowl turning whilst Val began wrapping the seat rails of an ash bench, prior to seating it in a mixture of willow and rush rope (watch future blogs) and David made gypsy flowers for all who wanted them. We also ran a ‘have a go’ at splitting and draw knifing and helped those who had brought their own knives with spoon making.
The wassail ceremony is associated with wassail bowls, which are often more like a goblet with a lid. So Jim ‘the wassail’ McVittie had made this wonderful wassail bowl for display, which as mentioned in the Christmas carol “Wassail, wassail all over the town” is made of the white maple tree. White maple, or field maple as we would call it is a pretty much flavorless wood and so was traditionally used to make kitchen utensils.
After some delicious soup and cheese provided by our generous hosts, it was time for the Wasail itself. Armed with a variety of traditional and not so traditional equipment we joined the forty or so people who had come to sing to the oldest apple tree in the orchard, the traditional songs including ‘Here we come a-wassailing’ and ‘Old apple tree’. The tree with decorated with toast soaked in wassail and then we all finally processed around the rest of the orchard still singing and playing: The wild life all ran for cover but we enjoyed ourselves and hope to get invited back another year.
Thank you to Susanna, Li and the Trumpington Community Orchard group for organizing such a fun day and hopefully we will see them and their musicians at the Wympole scything festival in June.