Wednesday, 21 December 2016


The Wassail is an ancient celebratory custom. The term comes from the Anglo-Saxon for 'good cheer' and refers to a midwinter custom intended to welcome in the new year. It often coincided with St Thomas's Day, 21st December, where the poor would go house to house a-Thomasing or a-gooding: collecting money, clothing or food.
Rather like modern carol singing, wassailers would go from house to house, often the largest ones, singing traditional songs on return for a liberal supply of beer, cider or pennies. This was collected in a bowl, kept by the King of the Wassailers.  In some cases the bowl was used for this purpose for a hundred years or more.

A Warwickshire wassailing song was:

Wassail, wassail, all over the town,
Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown,
Our bowl it is made of a map-a-lin tree,
And with our wassailing bowl we drink unto thee. 

Apple  trees are also commonly wassailed in winter to ensure good health the coming year. In some areas it took place on Christmas Eve, others on Twelfth Night (6th January,) or 17th January, which corresponds to Twelfth Night before the calendar alteration in 1752, a fact which reveals the age of the custom.
This wassailing involved pouring cider into the roots (and drinking liberal quantities at the same time) and often placing cider-soaked toast in the branches while singing songs which varied according to area.

As the pagan customs died out, the wassail tradition was transferred to the Christmas season, and is likely the origin of carol singing which is still going strong today.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Oak Moon

The full moon of December is often called the Oak Moon.

 December is the end of the year, when thoughts turn forwards and also back. We automatically consider the New Year as a time for a fresh start.
The oak is symbolic of this. The Celtic words for oak, duir or derw, have the same root as 'door'. And the oak was considered a gateway between lives, worlds, and spiritual stages of life. This is why the tree was sacred to the Druids - 'Druid' itself deriving from the same root.

 The Oak King ruled over the dying year, superseded by the Holly King of the new year. The oak is the last of the deciduous trees to lose its leaves in winter - they hang on well into December - giving another connection to the dying year. The holly is of course evergreen, and symbolises the continuing thread of life throughout the months of death.

 And so life goes on, through the doorway into the new year.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Mistletoe

Mistletoe is one of our most unusual - and therefore special - plants. It is parasitic, living high in the branches of other trees and living off their sustenance. Its near unique lack of connection with the ground led to its reverence in many cultures. It commonly grows in apple trees and oak trees, themselves both sacred in many belief systems, a fact which adds to its lore.
It was highly sacred in Britain, especially if growing in an oak tree. Pliny wrote an account of its harvesting in the 1st century AD. The Druids would harvest it with a golden sickle, catching it in a sheet so it didn't touch the ground and profane its sacredness. It was believed to cure infertility and provide an antidote to poison. ( It is in fact highly poisonous. ) It also warded off lightening and other evils.

In Norse myth, the god Baldur, who represented the divine light, was killed by a dart of mistletoe. Every living thing had been made to swear not to harm him, with this one exception, which was thought too innocent to cause harm.

And kissing under the mistletoe, a tradition at least 200 years old, still happens at Christmas today!