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
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 !