Thursday, January 06, 2022

The Pandemic Case for Wassailing

  1. Here we come a-wassailing

    Among the leaves so green;
    Here we come a-wand'ring
    So fair to be seen.


  2. Love and joy come to you,
    And to you your wassail too;
    And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
    And God send you a Happy New Year.

  3. Wassail definition 
  4. 1.
    drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
    "he feasted and wassailed with his warriors"
  5. 2.
    go from house to house at Christmas singing carols.
    "here we go a-wassailing"

 Let's be honest, the dark realities of the pandemic are enough to make teetotallers turn to drink. Actually, the statistics show that alcohol consumption has increased significantly in Canada during the nearly two years of uncertainty and grim news. If there is any day to "sanctify" drinking it is today, don't you know?

There is a long tradition of imbibing at the conclusion of the 12 days of the season called Christmas, so that would be either yesterday, or today, the Day of Epiphany. In some European cultures people would dress up in costume during the Christmas season and wander from home to home for good-natured revelry in a practice called mummering. There were still "mummers in the night" in outport Newfoundland when we lived there in the early 1980's. As the definitions above indicate, libations were involved with the name "wassail" or "wassailing." 

                                                                    The Brockman clan a-wassailin' 

The pandemic has definitely put the kibosh on the notion of indoor visits with neighbours but in recent times wassailing has been reclaimed as an environmental and even a spiritual activity. Back in 2018 I read a Christian Century article by Terra Brockman about her family's new/old practice of heading to the orchard in the cold of a January evening to anticipate the harvest of the coming year with some of the previous year's cider. Some cider-soaked bread is left behind for the birds, hung from the branches of the fruit trees. Brockman explains: 

It turns out that the word wassail comes from an ancient Saxon greeting of roughly a thousand years ago: Wæs þu hæl, “be thou hale,” or more colloquially, “be in good health,” used for both “hello” and “goodbye” ...

People all across northern Europe would brave the cold to go from field to field, stall to stall, and tree to tree, offering each plant and animal a drink in gratitude for past nourishment, and in hopes of future health and fertility.

I've noticed that some of the wineries in nearby Prince Edward County have attempted to cash in on wassailing, but with not even a nod toward the traditional season for the celebration, or the reasons. I did chat with the owner of one of the orchards of our area and he was open to having a wassailing event, but, well, the pandemic ended those best-laid plans. 

I'm not advocating excessive drinking here, and of course we should never wassail and drive. But if ever there was a Twelfth Night to tipple, this is it. Love and joy come to you, and God bless you in 2022. 

Modern-day Wassailer in Devon, Britain 

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