Wassail (/ˈwɒsəl/, /-eɪl/; Old Norse "ves heil", Old English was hál, literally: be hale) is a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
It's that time of year again, when many of us feel the need to get out there in nature and shake off the holiday season excesses. There's arguably no better way to greet the dawning of the new year than to go forth into a nearby orchard and shake a few trees into life.
The word ‘Wassail’ comes from the Anglo Saxon expression ‘wes hal’, meaning ‘be of good health’. Several kinds of ‘wassailing’ occur in England, originating from the south west. This song accompanies the parading of a wassail bowl, filled with drink, from house to house. You are invited to drink from the bowl for good luck, and in return make a contribution of money, or more drink, or preferably both.
Here is the "video" and Wassail track which has just been put together by the Campfire Wassail Singers in Frome (click image below)
The Anglo-Saxons left a pagan Winter tradition in Western England where people sing to the apple trees to encourage a good harvest, and this is called Wassailing. Wassail comes from Old English "wes hal" meaning "be healthy". There are many well attested records of the tradition of “wassailing the apple trees” from the 16th century onwards – but this practice is generally agreed to be far older. Each village has its own customs, but singing to the trees, offering them toast and making noise are common to all. In this video, two small villages in Devon to demonstrate the Wassailing tradition. It includes firing guns into the air, hanging toast in the tree branches, electing a Wassail King or queen to lead the procession, a mummers play of an axeman who attacks the trees, lots of cider drinking and lots of singing too! Thanks to Sandford orchard and all the people who participated in the two events.
Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink unto thee.
The Wikipedia page cites many musical examples of modern wassailing
British folk rock band Steeleye Span opened their third album "Ten Man Mop or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again" (1971) with an extended, minor-key version of "Gower Wassail," Tim Hart singing the traditional verses and the others joining the chorus.
The British rock band Blur released a cover of the song, with each member taking a verse. The release was limited to 500 7-inch pressings, which were given out at a concert in 1992. The version of 'The Wassailing Song' performed by Blur was later adapted in a recording by The Grizzly Folk, who have stated that the arrangement bears a close resemblance to the 'Gloucestershire Wassail'.
The alternative rock band Half Man Half Biscuit from Tranmere, England included a song named 'Uffington Wassail' on their 2000 album 'Trouble over Bridgwater'. With its references to the Israeli transsexual Eurovision contestant Dana International, the Sealed Knot English Civil War re-enactment society, and also to the skier Vreni Schneider, the meaning of the songs title in this context is a little obscure.
In 2013 Folk Rock musician Wojtek Godzisz (formerly of the band Symposium) created an arrangement of the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail words with original music for the Pentacle Drummers first Annual Wassail festival (2013), simply called 'Wassail'. As of 2013, the song was slated to be included on his next album.
For the Pentacle Drummers second Wassail festival (2014) the Pagan rock band Roxircle also wrote a Wassail song especially for the event called 'Wassail (Give Thanks To The Earth)'. The Pentacle Drummers encourage their headline acts to write a song centered around wassailing, a way to keep the tradition alive.
The English neo-progressive rock band Big Big Train released an EP entitled 'Wassail' in 2015, named for the title track.