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Irish Booze and Manhood, Wassailing the apple trees 1927


Wassailing the apple trees in the west country in 1927, something that goes back into antiquity.

Wassailing apple trees is a rural ritual, and in modern times usually happens on January 6 or what's known as the 12th night.

First documented in Britain at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as "howling." On the Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to "bless" the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. The truth is that the Apple and Pear have been deeply connected to both continental and insular Celtic peoples, that this is just an interrupted cultural ritual going back into prehistory. Although connected to Celtic peoples, it seems to be a mainstay amongst the Brythonic peoples of the Celtic world both in Britain and Britany. Both areas today still have a strong presence of the apple and the production and love for hard apple cider.

One thing to understand about the apple is to understand the peoples whose life depended on it. As an owner of an apple orchard, it is your primary source of income, a large portion of your food base, a source of food for your animals, and a source of alcohol. Wealth came into your household from your trade with the apples. Apple tree man is just one of many orchard-based spirits whose origin goes back to pre-Christian times. Your trees were alive, and you willfully placated the spirits to keep that bounty flowing. Especially in good years, one can’t ignore the wanting to thank your orchard for bringing forth a bounty. The coming of Christianity and period invasions changed very little in this as this desire to celebrate this fruit is intrinsic and inalienable to the people. These traditions and the local songs that are banned from them showcase these intensely localized traditions that spanned the centuries even today. Many of these rituals amongst continental and insular Celts probably occurred around Samhain and the winter solstice. The latter holds accurate as the apple wassail is connected to the 12th night celebrations. Even after the calendar conversion from Julian to Gregorian happened In 1752, some diehard believers still followed the old calendar and wassail their trees on old 12th night, January 17, 11 days after the 12th night we hold today. The Whimple wassail in Devon is one of these and was only stopped during world war two, only to be revived years later.

I follow multiple wassails and observe them all, never missing a chance to praise the land.

In truth, there’s no difference between a Gaulish orchard keeper in Switzerland during the La Tene period, a Breton apple grower in the 6th century, and a Cymric grower in the 15th century. Although some things may change, some things will never change, and that is our inexhaustible connection to this remarkable fruit and why we celebrate it with a glass of alcoholic elixir made from it! Here's to thee, old apple tree That blossoms well bears well Hats full, caps full Three bushel bags full An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurra

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