Christmas time is associated with lots of wonderful customs and traditions, many of which go back centuries.
One of these is the Anglo-Saxon custom of wassailing. The word wassail comes from the greeting waes hael (meaning ‘be in good health’), which the lord of the manor would say to his peasants at the start of a new year. They would reply drinc hael (‘drink well’) and be given food and drink in return for their blessing.
In cider-producing regions, wassailing also refers to drinking – and singing – the health of trees in the hope of promoting a good harvest the following autumn. There are two opportunities coming up for you to enjoy a spot of wassailing in Shakespeare’s England.
The first is a Wassailing and Carol Singing event this Sunday at Hill Close Gardens in Warwick. A local Morris dancing group will get things started, before Kenilworth folk group Romany Pie lead the orchard wassailing songs amongst the beautifully lit fruit trees. The evening concludes with a Christmas wassail inside the Visitor Centre, with a local choir leading traditional carol singing.
14th January sees the return of the annual Wassail at the Fleece Inn when its apple orchard becomes alive from dusk with cider, singing and Morris men. This pagan tradition of waking the trees and scaring away evil spirits is fun for all the family and a great way to dispel those winter blues! After the Wassail there’ll be a music session in the barn.
The Fleece Inn will also be keeping another unusual tradition alive with performances of mumming on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Mummers’ Plays are folk plays performed by troupes of amateur actors – traditionally all male –known as “mummers” or “guisers”. During the play a number of characters are called on stage; two of them engage in a fight, with the loser revived by a Doctor character. Mumming is sometimes performed in the street but more usually takes place at houses or pubs.