Seasonal festivities in the heart of the countryside - debilitating alcohol, revelry and firearms - what could go wrong !

You’ll have no doubt noticed that my ramblings tend to encompass many rural themes, and this will be no exception as – back on the farm when I was but a wee lad – Twelfth Night was an excuse for the last celebration of the festive season in the form of Wassailing.

Originally a German tradition, it arrived in Britain during the 16th century, first manifesting itself in apple-growing regions mirroring its continental purpose of “blessing” the orchards and trees in the hope of ensuring a fruitful harvest later in the year.

The central part of pretty much any convivial gathering under the wassail remit has remained constant wherever it may take place – the taking of mulled cider, or wine, by all participants – and, of course, it is the vessels from which the celebrants imbibe the well-spiced libation that hold the most interest for us.

Over the years, the practice has diversified in both form and intent, becoming more formalised in Georgian times with indoor functions of great pomp and ceremony, eliciting the use of ornate wassail bowls, serving spoons, ladles and the like. It also took on a broader meaning with any Yuletide procession around a village or estate coming under the wassail banner, regardless of what the intention may have been or what the exact ceremonial itinerary may have entailed.

It’s the original meaning that has endured, though. I personally alternate on a yearly basis between attending one of two local celebrations in the area where I now live, and the wider wassail spirit still thrives in orchards right across the UK. There are still considerable variations on the theme depending on where you might find yourself, with – for instance - cider-soaked toast being placed in trees, shotguns being fired up in to the branches or pots and pans being banged together. Again, though, cider is consumed and the invocation of the spirits of a bountiful harvest is the prime motive.
It’s not hard to imagine that the agrarian indulgence in these drink-fuelled revelries was not really the sort of environment where fine glassware would fare particularly well. As a consequence, the majority of the open-air proceedings would have featured more durable pewter vessels, wooden or horn flagons or simply pottery bowls and beakers – breakages being pretty much guaranteed if proceedings went to plan...

If, however, we were to pull on our finest knee breeches and silk stockings, polish our Oxonian ankle boots and brush down the fine cloth of our cut-away tail coat in order to attend a Georgian wassail feast as a guest of the local gentry, we would more reasonably expect to deal with some more ornate tableware.

It should by know be recognised by even the occasional visitor to our pages that glasses were decorated specifically to denote the drink with which they were intended to be used, so what should our cider glasses bear but apples, of course. There follow a few examples, with the usual links to more detailed content on our website, and some other relevant bits and pieces - wæs hal to you all – and may your boughs bend under the weight of their bounty come the late autumn !

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