malus domestica: wæs þu hæl / wassailing the apple-trees


Writing on this subject, in the Antiquary, March, 1895, Mr. Harry Hems, of Exeter, introduces the reduced copy of an illustration which appears on the following page, and which he states was published in the Illustrated London News, January 11, 1851.

The picture (says Mr. Hems) „presents, as will be seen, a frosty, moonlight night, with a brilliantly-lit old farmhouse in the background. In the fore are leafless fruit-trees, and three men firing guns at them, whilst the jovial farmer and another man drink success to the year’s crop from glasses evidently filled from a jug of cider, which the latter also holds a-high. A crowd of peasants – men, women and children – are gathered around, and the following description is appended:-

„’Amongst the scenes of jocund hospitality in this holiday season, that are handed down to us, is one which not only presents an enlivening picture, but offers proof of the superstition that still prevails in the Western counties. On Twelfth-even, in Devonshire, it is customary for the farmer to leave his warm fireside, accompanied by a band of rustics, with guns, blunderbusses, &c., presenting an appearance which at other times would be somewhat alarming. Thus armed, the band proceeds to an adjoining orchard, where is selected one of the most fruitful and aged of the apple-trees, grouping round which they stand and offer up their invocations in the following quaint doggerel rhyme:-

‚Here’s to thee,

Old apple-tree!

Whence thou mayst bud,

And whence thou mayst blow,

And whence thou mayst bear

Apples enow:

Hats full,

Caps full,

Bushels, bushels, sacks full,

And my pockets full too! Huzza! huzza!‘

The cider-jug is then passed round, and, with many a hearty shout, the party fire off their guns, charged with powder only, amidst the branches, sometimes frightening the owl from its midnight haunt. With confident hopes they return to the farmhouse, and are refused admittance, in spite of all weather,


till some lucky wight guesses aright the peculiar roast the maidens are preparing for their comfort. This done, all enter, and soon right merrily the jovial glass goes round, that man who gained admittance receiving the honour of King for the evening, and till a late hour he reigns, amidst laughter, fun, and jollity. The origin of this custom is not known, but it is supposed to be one of great antiquity.

„’The illustration is from a sketch by Mr. Colebrooke, Stockdale.’“

We may add that, in the seventeenth century, a similar custom seems to have been observed in some places on Christmas Eve, for in [robert] Herrick’s Hesperides [london, 1684] the wassailing of fruit trees is among the Christmas Eve ceremonies: –

„Wassail the trees, that they may beare

You many a plum, and many a peare;

For more or less fruits they will bring,

As you do give them wassailing.“

william frances dawson, ‚christmas: its origin and associations: together with its historical events and festive celebrations during nineteen centuries: […] derived from the most authentic sources, and arranged chronologically‘, london, 1902.

wassail kommt aus dem altenglischen oder angelsächsischen: wæs hæl / be you healthy. die ursprüngen liegen vor 1066, der normannischen eroberung unter william the conqueror.

wassailing ist ein fruchtbarkeitsritual. in der letzten der rauhnächte, twelfth night, wurde um eine gute ernte gebeten. die tradition hat sich besonders in den westlichen englischen grafschaften (devon, somerset, dorset, gloucestershire and herefordshire), in denen viel cider produziert wird, erhalten. als lektüre zum cider empfiehlt sich das 1676 in london erschienene buch ‚vinetum britannicum: or a treatise of cider‘ von john worlidge. als ersatz für das schiessen durch den baum kann man natürlich auch hüte durch die äste werfen, denn das sollte bei einem gut beschnittenen apfelbaum möglich sein.

das getränk wassail ist ein mulled cider, glühwein oder punch. es finden sich regional unterschiedliche rezepte. neben cider benötigt man auf jeden fall zucker, zimt, ingwer, und muskatnuss. bei der variante ‚lamb’s wool‘ bratäpfel. auf jeden fall gilt: wæs þu hæl / be in good health!

für den richtigen zeitpunkt bitte die umstellung des kalenders im jahre 1582 vom julianischen auf den gregorianischen beachten. twelfth night, heute die nacht vom 05. zum 06. januar, fiel nach julianischen kalender auf den heutigen 17. januar. noch genug zeit die zutaten zu besorgen …