Kiss the Earth: Here We Go a Wassailing

I love Mondays and the fresh starts that they bring each week.   This morning, while I organize my notes and pictures from a weekend visit to the New York Gift Fair (in preparation for sharing later today) I hope you enjoy Studio’g’s newest contributor’s first post.  Jen Sundeen is one my dearest friends and partners in crime.  We are going to spend this year exploring all manner of earth based celebrations, recreating them where we can, attending them, documenting them and bringing you along for the fun.  The hope is that trough this exploration we will, ourselves, have more than a few great stories and adventures to share, and that we will inspire you to also use ancient and cultural rituals and seasonal celebrations to enrich your own lives and help you to have a greater connection to the natural world around you.  This isn’t a religious experiment, and while there are lots of beliefs tied into this, our goal is to learn about history and many cultures, to highlight land based ceremonies and wisdom and generally keep the focus on those things whose origins are based in agriculture and seasonality.  If we missed something that you think we should share, let us know in an email (we are always up for discovering something new!).  We are calling it Kiss the Earth and the first post is about Wassailing.

wasail1-e1288369485800

It was a cold moonless January night, the snow barely blanketing the frozen earth.  We solemnly stole our way out to the ancient apple tree, standing alone amidst a circle of candles.  The dried gourd from last year’s harvest held hot mulled cider, its steamy breath warming the air.  The bread was dipped in the cider and gently hung on the branches.   And then, without warning, a great howl filled the air.  The wild ruckus had begun…

gourd-wassail-bowl-and-cider

OK, in truth, it was a new apple tree, two years young, and in truth, the ruckus was just a few of us moms and kids, laughing and dancing, but it was Wassail after all, and anything goes on this fabulous mid-Winter’s eve.

A ritual that began a long time ago in the days of old Great Britain, Wassail is a fertility festival that is meant to awaken the trees from their slumber and ensure a fruitful year ahead.  Blending it’s pagan roots with later Christian celebrations, it is part of the Yule festival and celebrated on Twelfth Night, January 5th, or in some places as late as January 17.  It is a time of revelry, of merry-making, marking the true end of the holiday season.

wassailing images from studio 'g' wassailing in harvard ma

The word ‘wassail’ is a toast meaning ‘a drink to your health’ or ‘in good health,’ the Saxon equivalent of ‘cheers’ or ‘salut.’  It later came to be known as the warm spiced drink such as mulled cider or spiced wine used to toast the health of apple trees for the upcoming year.  Both traditionally – and even today – in villages across the globe, Wassail enthusiasts gather around an old apple tree in January.  A wassail bowl is filled with warm cider or wine.  Evil spirits are warded off with shouts and howls, gunshots or the banging on kettles.  The spirits of robins and other small birds are fed by dipping bread into the warm cider and placing them in the crooks of branches.   Cider is poured onto the roots of the apple tree in honor of the upcoming year’s harvest.  Mummers’ plays, a crowned king and queen, singing, music, dancing, costumes, and great bonfires are all part of the revelry.

toast and gourds

While our first attempt at the Wassail celebration was rather…interpretive, to say the least, it sure was fun to empty the gourds and mull the cider and dance around the tree and howl in the wind.  No doubt the thousands of apple trees in our village awoke that night, and we’re pretty sure the bountiful harvest that’s undoubtedly coming will be on account of our debauchery.  We’ll be sure to report back at harvest-time this September. – Jen

Jen is preparing an ‘In the garden With….’ post so that you can all get to know her a little bit better, but until then, make sure to visit the writers page as I have just updated it to include her bio! -Rochelle

images by Rochelle Greayer, and from real cider and ceremonial magic.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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3 Comments

  1. Michele Pappas on January 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Umm I want to attend these ceremonies! Love Jen’s bio too:)

  2. Carmine Valpocella on January 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    All right. Wicked cool. Way to go Jen!

  3. louise on February 1, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Love the idea for the new Feature, so many possibilities!!! Ways to celebrate our lives on this wonderful planet….Yes! Newt can have the Moon, I love my Mother!

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