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There are three traditions of Wassail. One is the custom of Wassail in the Hall. The next is Wassail performed  by roving groups going door to door but the most interesting and mysterious is the Apple Wassail wherein  participants bless the orchards and the fruit trees. Here are the traditions, and the songs and rhymes of Apple Wassail. It is fitting that we visit and bless the wondrous Apple trees as we celebrate it in song, toast  rhyme, and ritual.
 
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Traditions of  Apple Wassail

"In Southern England a...set of customs...was grouped under the name of wassailing. They consisted, in essence, of wishing health to crops and animals much as people passing the wassail bowl wished it to each other. Most are well recorded in the early modern period, and they may quite easily have descended directly from pagan practices, although it is also possible that they developed outwards from the domestic wassail. The most widespread, famous, and enduring concerned fruit trees. It is first mentioned at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time it was already in part the preserve of groups of young men who went between orchards performing the rite for a reward. Robert Herrick, almost certainly writing about Devon and in the 1630s, spoke of 'wassailing' the fruit-bearing trees in order to assure good yields, and in the 1660s and 1670s a Sussex clergyman gave money to boys who came to 'howl' his orchard (being the enduring  local term). John Aubrey, describing West Country customs in the same period, said that on Twelfth Eve men 'go with their wassel-bowl into the orchard and go about the trees to bless them, and put a piece of toast upon the roots, in order to it.'" - From The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
 

Devonshire, England, - Twelfth Night (January 7)
The farmers get  their weapons and go to their apple orchard. Selecting the oldest tree, they form a circle and chant: The men drink cider, make merry, and fire their weapons (charged only with powder) at the tree. They return to the home and are denied entrance  no matter what the weather by the women indoors. When one of the men guesses the name of the roast that is being prepared for them, all are let  in. The one who guessed the roast is named "King for the Evening" and presides over the party until the wee hours.-Source= 1851 London Newspaper
 

Devonshire

"In the south hams (villages) of Devonshire, on the eve of the Epiphany, the farmer, attended by his workmen, with a large pitcher of cider, goes to the orchard, and there encircling one of the best bearing trees they drink the following toast three several times:--

"Hereís to thee, old apple-tree,

Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow!

And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!

Hats full! Caps full!

Bushel-bushel-sacks full,

And my pockets full too! Huzza!

This done, they return to the house, the doors of which they are sure to find booted by the females, who, be the weather what it may, are inexorable to all entreaties to open them till some one has guessed at what is on the spit, which is generally some nice little thing, difficult to hit on, and is their reward of him who first names it. The doors are then thrown open, and the lucky clod pole receives the tit-bit as his recompense. Some are not so superstitious as to believe that if they neglect this custom the trees will bear no apples that year- Gentlemanís Magazine 1791- 403 In Chambers,Book of Days.



Much information concerning English Apple Wassailing is found in   Wild Apples by Henry D. Thoreau (Atlantic Monthly  November 1862



 

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The Rhymes of  Apple Wassail
 

Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum, and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.-Robert Herrick (1591-1674) "Ceremonies of Christmas Eve"
 

The Apple Rhymes

Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Bushel--bushel--sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza!- South Hams of Devon, 1871
 

Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stors
That the bags and chambers and house run o'er.- Cornworthy, Devon, 1805
 
 

Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now.-19th century Sussex, Surrey
 
 

Apple-tree, apple-tree,
Bear good fruit,
Or down with your top
And up with your root.-19th century S. Hams.
 
 

Bud well, bear well
God send you fare well;
Every sprig and every spray
A bushel of apples next New Year Day.-19th century Worcestershire

 Source: The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton

  Short Verses

     Blowe, blowe, bear well,
     Spring well in April,
     Every sprig and every spray
     Bear a bushel of apples against
     Next new yearís day -Painswick in Gloucestershire

      Health to thee, good apple tree,
     Well to bear pocket fulls, hat fulls,
     Peck fulls, bushel bag fulls -Devon

     Hats full! Caps full!
     Bushel - bushel - sacks full
     And my pockets full too! Huzza!-1791 The Gentlemanís Magazine  South Devon

     Stand fast root, bear well top
     Pray God send us a good howling crop
     Every twig, apples big
     Every bough, apples enow.
     Hats full, caps full, full quarter sacks full
     Holla boys holla!-Sussex, "howling" verse

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Songs

The Apple Tree Wassail

                                                 Old apple tree, we'll wassail thee,
                                                 And hoping thou wilt bear.
                                                 The Lord does know where we shall be
                                                 To be merry anither year.
                                                 To blow well and to bear well,
                                                 And so merry let us be;
                                                 Let ev'ry man drink up his cup
                                                 And health to the apple tree.
 

APPLE-TREE WASSAIL  II

      Lily white lily white lily white pin Please to come down and let us come in. Lily white lily white lily
      white smock Please to come down and pull back the lock.

      FOR IT"S our wassail, jolly wassail; joy come to our jolly wassail.

      How well they may bloom, how well they may bear, That we may have apples and cider next year.

      Master and mistress, oh are you within? Please to come down and let us come in.

      FOR IT"S our wassail, jolly wassail; joy come to our jolly wassail.

      How well they may bloom, how well they may bear, That we may have apples and cider next year.

      There was an old farmer that had but one cow And how to milk her, he didn't know how. He put his
      old cow all in his old barn And a little more liquor won't do us know harm.

      Harm, me boys, harm; Harm, me boys, harm; A little more liquor won't do us know harm.

      Lily white lily white lily white pin Please to come down and let us come in. Lily white lily white lily
      white smock Please to come down and pull back the lock.

      FOR IT"S our wassail, jolly wassail; joy come to our jolly wassail.

      How well they may bloom, how well they may bear, That we may have apples and cider next year.

      FOR IT"S our wassail, jolly wassail; joy come to our jolly wassail. -The Watersons?
 

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