I'm the first to admit that I haven't really been a fan of Christmas since round about my 10th birthday and I discovered Santa wasn't real.Quite who that man in the red suit with the reindeer and sleigh that my brother and I SWEAR we saw one Christmas Eve, I have no idea. Christmas seems to have become this revolting fest of consumer-overspending where people drive themselves into debt to buy Little Sally and Little Jonny the newest toy/laptop/iPad/XBox just so they can ignore them for the rest of the year.
It doesn't help that Christmas starts round about August so by the time December arrives, we are all heartily sick of 'White Christmas', Mariah Carey, Slade and effing chestnuts roasting on an effing fire! And then there's the Christmas Album. Jeez, who doesn't have one these days? You mean you don't have Mojo Nixon's 'Horny Holidays' or the Yin Yang Twinz 'We Wish you a Merry Twerkmas'? Really?
What I do like is old traditions - well not wife-beating and drowning witches, obviously - but I have always fancied the idea of a bit of a wassail. The first thing I discovered was that wassail is a noun, not a verb. Wassail is the drink you drink, not the act of drinking it. The second thing I discovered was there are two types of wassailing, One is when you take a communal bowl of wassail from house to house wishing them good health and the other one is when you go to an apple orchard and toast the trees with the wassail, thus encouraging a good harvest in the autumn.
It traditionally takes place on Old Twelvey Night, which pre-Gregorian calendar days, was 17th January. Now it takes place on or around 6th January. So, last Saturday, myself, a friend and her son set off to Ashley Wood Farm in nearby Fonthill Gifford to experience our first Wassail.
The venue was stunning; a huge barn, set in glorious Wiltshire countryside overlooking a lake. The weather had been absolutely vile all day so we were lucky that about an hour before the start of the evening's festivities, the rain cleared and we were treated to a beautiful starry night.
At 6pm we set off by torchlight to an orchard close by, led by the White Horse Morris Men (and women). In the orchard was a large fire surrounded by 12 smaller ones, representing the Twelve Apostles. (There goes myth number two, that it is a pagan festival). The biggest and best tree was selected and a toast made to it, before the wassail was poured over the roots - what a bloody waste! Bits of cider soaked toast are placed in the forks of the branches and lots of noise was made, banging pots and pans and even a couple of gunshots to wake The Sleeping Tree Spirit and scare off the tree demons. Apparently, there was method to the madness of stuffing bits of toast in trees as it apparently encouraged birds and insects and, thus, pollination.A wassail song was sang and the trees blessed, then the twelfth fire, signifying Judas Iscariot, was kicked out with great gusto. There was a slight comedy moment when the Fire Engine was seen racing to the farm, no doubt somebody had reported a large number of fires burning in a field.
|The Wassail Toast is read|
Local company, Toby's Kitchen, provided a great barbeque with proper burgers and sausages and even celeriac soup and with the temperature hovering just above zero, his red hot barbeque was a popular place to hang around.
The dance band struck up a tune and the White Horse Morris started to strut their folky stuff. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a little bit suspicious of men who skip, especially while waving white hankies, but their enthusiasm was infectious and before long myself and my friend were doing the Wiltshire Six Hand Reel with gusto. And I had completely underestimated how tiring all this skipping lark is. No wonder there was barely a beer belly among them. What was really nice to see was several young people in the Morris and in the band. I would imagine admitting that you like to spend your weekends skipping around with bells on your legs might well leave you open to a certain amount of banter.And being an accordion player in a folk band is unlikely to have quite the same cachet as being the lead guitarist in a rock band.
Having shown our willingness to join in with a bit of audience participation, we found ourselves constantly whisked onto the floor for a bit more country dancing. I even got a proposal of marriage after my polka - all those country dancing lessons at primary school were finally paying off!
'You polka very well, my dear' said my dance partner (that will probably also give you a rough idea of the age group we are talking about). 'I bet you say that to all the girls,' I replied.
The best dance was a Swedish one which involved lots of polkaing and waltzing which enabled me to channel my inner Strictly Contestant. It was one of those dances where you change partners after ever few minutes and it was actually very enjoyable to be waltzed round the floor by men who had grown up with waltzing. By the time we left, I was almost ready to join up...almost!
So, I have wassailed. I can tick that off my list and start looking forward to that hot air balloon over Ayers Rock.