Tuesday 21 January 2014

Wassailing Sussex Style

I've been lucky enough to have been wassailing or, to use its Sussex name howling or charming or even whostling come to that, these last two weekends. Wassailing is one of those traditions that fell out of favour in many parts of the country, but has thankfully enjoyed a resurgence over the last few decades with many different regional variations emerging. Originally it could be from door to door or, as is more often the case these days, in orchards and all sorts can be wassailed from apples to pubs [the Barley Mow at Selmeston was indeed wassailed earlier this month] and even bees. This is the rhyme from "A Sussex Garland" by Tony Wales for just such an occasion:

"Bees, O Bees of Paradise, does the work of Jesus Christ,
Does the work of which no man can.
God made bees, and bees made honey.
God made great men to plough and to sow.
God made little boys to tend the rooks and crows.
God made women to brew and to bake
And God made little girls to eat up all the cake.
Then blow the horn!"

Yesterday we plumped for a very young community orchard in Arundel. The first apple trees were put in last year and a local permaculture group along with the audience and us planted another batch. Mulled cider was poured on the tree roots as an offering to the tree and cider soaked toast was hung in the branches to encourage the local birds who eat the harmful insects. With much banging of drums, sticks, pots and pans the bad demons were driven off with their tails between their legs and I can't believe that even the sleepiest of tree spirits could have snoozed through the cacophony of sound! To really add that final county touch we sang the "Sussex Sugar Wassail" from the 1840s which is one I have not previously encountered. For anyone interested the link to the words is here- it is sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen".

I am now off to read this Christmas pressie to learn even more!


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