With the Christmas and New Year festivities over diversions are needed to escape the dark dreary nights of January. For me, this has been found by singing to apple tress! This is wassailing or in Sussex known as apple howling. Initially I found it a good excuse to have a pint but the more wassails I have attended the more I have found these ancient rituals interesting as well as a great way to connect with nature whilst in the depths of winter.
Organised wassailing events seem to be getting increasingly popular. More often than not they involve the local Morris Men. Wassails traditionally take place around the twelfth night, either the 5th or 6th January or using the old pre-Gregorian calendar 17th January. The ceremony centres around the oldest tree in the orchard. One thing for certain is that there will be a great deal of noise. Sticks, drums, pots and pans are used to awaken the trees and chase bad spirits from the orchard. Some people even bring whistles and in years gone by shot guns were used. I am not sure this will ever comply with today’s health and safety laws. Toast is then soaked in cider and hung from trees before a bowl of cider from the previous year’s crop poured over the roots of the tree. This is all to encourage a good crop for this autumn.
Over the years I have visited Wassails in Tarring, Slindon and this weekend I went to Steyning. The ceremonies have all been different and have varied in one way or another. You are guaranteed to put on a few extra layers of clothing because one thing for certain is that it will be a cold evening. I took this rather badly shot video of the Mythago Morris Men performing at Steyning. Apologises in advance if it does not give them the credit they deserve. Mythago Morris are not your typical image of Morris Men but they are very entertaining and excellent performers.