More about Wassailing the Orchards
Taken from the Leominster Morris website
The words comes from the Anglo Saxon 'was hael' meaning good health - literally 'be whole'. Ella Leather in 'The Folk-lore of Herefordshire' (published 1912) refers to the custom of lighting bonfires on Twelfth Night, with associated ceremonies, and called locally 'wassailing'. She quotes the Gentleman's Magazine (1791) describing the event. In Herefordshire, wassailing has long been associated with morris dancers and mummers, THE LEOMINSTER MORRIS uphold this tradition.The Wassail was the first event they revived after the side was re-formed in 1983. That first Herefordshire Wassail of the new era took place in the orchard of Sandy & Eileen Thompson at Tudor House, Yarpole.
The Wassail begins by gathering at a given watering hole, where flaming torches are prepared & distributed to the public, whence the side leads the crowd of followers (usually about 200) to the orchard. Toast is soaked in cider, then placed in the fork of the tree chosen to represent the orchard. Cider is then sprinkled about the roots of the tree. Next, the Herefordshire Lantern is ignited: this is a beribboned thorn-cage stuffed with straw on a pole. It represents the sun reborn, and shows why this ancient ceremony took place at this time of year. At the midwinter, the coldest & darkest part of the year, people encouraged the return of light & warmth, and by so doing they performed an affirmation of their faith that it would be so. Next, the 13th fire is lit and immediately stamped out; the Fire of Eternal Renewal or the Judas Fire. This is the sign for the simultaneous lighting of the ring of twelve fires, The Wassail Song is sung by THE LEOMINSTER MORRIS under the branches of the tree and two or three dances danced there too.
The we all go back in procession to the meeting place where THE LEOMINSTER MORRIS perform the Mummers Play. The text for which is taken from several local sources, and enlivened by individual members adding topical references or variations to their parts. More dances follow, then it is in to the bar for music, song, dance and drink!
The Wassail songs are spoken or sung.