Sunday, 16 January 2011

Happy wassailing!

They say January 17th, is the old twelfth night. I'm not sure how that works as it would mean there were many more than 12 days of Christmas, but it is quite an ancient tradition and therefore this date seems to be accepted wisdom. Time was when country folk used to celebrate  by waking up the fruit trees. They made noise, hung ribbons and toast in the branches of fruit trees and poured last year's apple cider or pear perry over the roots to augur for a bountiful year ahead.
At Chiswick House, the Community Kitchen garden held its first annual wassail today. The garden is just being replanted, so the apple and pear trees are barely dug in. But there is an ancient mulberry at the heart of the garden and this was what we woke up, in the hope that it some of its wassailed bounty would brush off on the new fruit trees.
MC Malcolm, looking very much like a green man, led the singing and proclaimed some appropriate ceremonial words.  The mulberry tree, as you can see above, was beautifully decked out by everyone glad to find a home for all that leftover Christmas ribbon. Meanwhile the bonfire roared and holly branches made it spit and crackle.

And, to give the tradition a very London twist, a fantastic samba band, in medieval-looking dress, drummed some South American beats for the noise part of the festivities and led a rollicking procession around the garden - my own old frying pan and wooden spoon no doubt enhanced the drumbeats. 
This  was a very therapeutic thing and did a very good job of banishing away those January blues, inspiring thoughts of a hot, bountiful summer ahead. Even if you don't have any fruit trees to dance around, I can recommend going outside and making a lot of noise to start the growing year. Just tell the neighbours you're wassailing.