Friday, 28 January 2011

Wæs hal!

Apple-tree, apple-tree,
Bear good fruit,
Or down with your top
And up with your root.
(19th century rhyme from South Hams area)
On Thursday 3rd February 7-7:45pm as a first celebration of the orchard and to wish the trees good health (wassailing) is a custom we'd like to embrace. As we are novices, all ideas are welcome and apart from the description at the end of this email (which probably has the main elements of a good wassail), there is a lot of information and YouTube videos on the internet if you google "wassailing orchards" to find out more. Some people have very elaborate celebrations but I think we can mould our own particular Brockley version. If anyone wants to write a suitable wassail song for new trees (to a familiar tune), that would be great!
Send us your ideas. We're all new to this, so it'll be a fun event to create as a group.

Initial thoughts are for people to bring some warm (apple type of) drink (in thermos) and pieces of toast and something to make a bit of noise (drum, whistle etc), and then we can toast each tree with a splash of warm cider/apple juice, wedge a piece of toast in the wire mesh for the birds, and then have a bit of a bang to scare away any evil spirits or pests which might cause disease. However, we'll collect your ideas and send an email nearer the date with any specifics.

We're meeting up at 7.00pm so that it isn't too late for children to come along.

Each year in January the people of Somerset, Devon, Worcestershire, Sussex and Kent, the traditional cider making areas of England wassail their apple trees to ensure a fine crop of cider apples in the summer ahead.
Apple tree wassailing is an ancient custom that involves drinking to the health of the apple trees. The Anglo-Saxons used the phrase Wæs hal! as an everyday greeting. Wæs is a form of the verb "to be" related to modern English was. Hal is the ancestor of the modern English words whole and hale. Thus, wæs hal literally meant "Be healthy!".

Traditionally the custom involved the local farm-workers visiting the orchard after dark with shotguns, horns, food and a large pail or bowl of cider. Usually the best tree would be selected to represent the whole plantation. Cider would be poured over its roots and pieces of toast, or cakes soaked in cider would be placed in the forks of branches, or impaled on twigs; The wassail song would be sung or chanted as a blessing or charm to bring fruitfulness or even in admonishment not to fail in the coming year.

Following the wassail we will have our first meeting of the year... Mr Lawrence Wine Bar at 8pm to have an informal and open chat/discussion about initiatives for 2011. Topics could include the River of Flowers project (creating Lewisham links to the planned interconnecting chain of meadow and wildflower habitat to help reverse the decline in pollinating insects ), energy saving, recycling, ban on plastic bags or anything that people are passionate about and would like to discuss and/or take action on.

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