Oh apple tree, we wassail thee

Wassailing of the apple trees dates back to our forefathers of Anglo-Saxon times. It was originally celebrated on 17th January, although this changed to 6th January with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

The word “Wassail” comes from the Old English “wæs (þuhæl“, roughly translating to “be in good health”, something we still raise a glass to in this day and age. We toast and give thanks during the darkest period of the year, where the wheel has finally turned and we welcome back the sun.

The orchard spirits are to be awoken from their winter slumber by a racket and a song. Upon being disturbed the evil spirits of the orchard shall dispel, with the [good] spirits of the trees remaining. A helping of cider is poured at the roots of the trees as an offering to the spirits of the trees, this would ensure a bountiful harvest for the coming year.

Pieces of toast are then dipped in cider and hung from the crooked branches of the largest tree in the orchard, this is to encourage the little red breasted robins to visit the orchards and provide their protection. Robins have long been seen as the guardians of apple orchards.

Oh apple tree
We wassail thee
And hoping thou will be
Hat fulls, cap fulls
Three bushel bag fulls
A little heap under the stairs

Pallet Wood Bug Hotels

It dawned on me that I forgot to post about the little bug hotels we made over summer, so here is a little flashback to August in these colder times.

Thomas cut and measured up a few planks of pallet wood that we had at the allotment and made the bases, whilst I walked around the park with his nieces [and their mother]; we foraged for twigs, leaves and any other sort of foliage that may come in handy.

They were learning about bugs at school and so we thought this would be a great way to help them learn about their habitats. We assisted them when they needed to use anything sharp, but we let them get on and discover what foliage would be good for what section of the bug hotels and discussed what bugs may pay them a visit.

Decent bug hotels start from around £20, but it is much better to sit and make your own from what you can find in nature.

Wire was placed over the bottom parts, although it may have been a good idea to put it over all of the parts to stop any of the looser items falling out.

There are examples of bug hotels that are made of several pallets stacked on top of one another; with bricks, stones, twigs and such-forth inside. We don’t have the space for something so large unfortunately, but thinking back to making these is making me want to get down to the allotment and crack on with making one! The allotment is quite dormant now, so this would be a great project for us to do in the mean time.

As we leave the darkness

Yule is a sacred time for our people. We have lived through the darkness and the sun is reborn once again during the winter solstice. We are connected to nature and in-turn we are renewed in this rebirth. We reflect on many things during Yule; I personally think of the ones who came before me. It is very important to be connected to your roots, without roots we are nothing.

Many people seem to have forgotten their roots, I suppose it is hard to stay connected in such a fast paced globalist nightmare; but it is possible. Many ancient Yule [Pagan] traditions are still with us today, under the guise of Christianity.

Trees and greenery

Winter is when most of nature lies dormant; with the obvious exception of evergreens. The dwelling was decorated with greenery, to remind them that life can still survive throughout the winter. This was known as “decking the halls”.

Trees are an important symbol, they are the symbol of life. There is a suggestion that offerings would be tied to trees for the gods during Anglo-Saxon and Viking times, but it was also believed to be practised by the Romans. Although, trees were not bought into the home until around the 16th century by the Germans, but this slowly developed into the Christmas tree that we have today.

Image by Anne Stokes.

Christmas Holly

In more modern times, we usually think of holly berries as “the blood of Christ”. In Christianity, the sharp leaves of the holly came to represent the thorn of crowns; the berries his blood.

In actual fact, the reason why holly is so prolific at during Yule is due to The Holly King and the Oak King’s twice yearly battle. Oak would reign from Yule to Midsummer, and Holly would reign from Midsummer to Yule. One representing the lighter half of the year, the other the darkness. The wheel ever turning.

Ivy accompanies holly in depictions of Yule, holly represents life; whereas ivy represents death. The two work together in perfect harmony.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas has his roots in several places. Some see his roots with The Holly King – as he dressed in red and green with a white beard, with eight of stags by his side.

Another pre-christian ideal is that Father Christmas is actually Woden, and the reindeer are his noble eight legged steed Sleipnir. Woden is the all father of the Aesir [in Germanic Paganism] and is sometimes depicted as the wander in robes.

This is the darkest time of the year and people would not dare venture into the darkness, for they may encounter evil spirits. Woden and the wild hunt would ride across the dark winter skies for any wandering soul they may find – and doom the wanderer to ride the skies with them for evermore. This may not sound like the Christmas we know just yet. Woden would bestow gifts to his favourites, possibly leaving gifts under the trees which held the offerings for himself. Children would even leave vegetables for Sleipnir, which are now left for Father Christmas’ reindeer.

The Father Christmas of today is also heavily influenced by the Christian missionary, St Nicholas. Amongst many things, he was the patron saint of children and had a habit of gift giving. It is even believed that his bones were discovered in Peebles, Scotland.

Carol Singing [Wassailing]

We think of Wassailing as singing to ward off evil spirits in the orchards; for the health of the trees and for a bountiful harvest, but it once encompassed the carol singing we know today.

Wassailers would have traditionally gone from dwelling to dwelling [as well as through the orchards] singing to the health of their neighbours and families, which evolved into the carol singing of today – which peaked in popularity during the Victorian era.

There are so many other traditions throughout the Christmas season that we can thank our Pagan forefathers for, I really have just touched the tip of the iceberg.

I wish you all a blessed Yule. Take time for yourselves and your families. Take time to be in nature. Rest and be merry.