Monday, January 17, 2011

On This Day...

Old 12th Night.  The calendar reform of 1752 changed from the Julian to the Gregorian, this cut 11 days from the calendar in order to bring England in line with the rest of the Christian world.  The second part of the reform also moved New Year from Lady Day on the 25th of March to its current position of the 1st of January.

Many people, especially those in smaller more rural communities, felt that the calendar change moved the dates of important celebrations for no good reason and so continued to mark these days as they had been on the old calendar. 

One such day was 12th Night when celebrants would enter the fruit orchards in order to sing, shout, make a terrible racket and drive evil spirits out of the orchard to ensure a good and healthy crop for the year.

"Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare
For more or lesse fruits they will bring
As you do give them Wassailing.”

Some villages in the South West of England still have 12th Night Wassails to this day, although, as the wassail in Whimple, Devon is first documented in 1908 and the wassail in Carhampton, Somerset was begun in 1930 it seems that both are fairly recent events and the original wassails may have halted.  Whimple was home to Whiteways Cider until it it collapsed in the 1980's, some of the now redundant employees bought the old cider making equipment and set themselves up as Green Valley Cider which is still proudly making traditional cider today.

The wassail in Carhampton was restarted in 1930 as an advertising wheeze by the Taunton Cider Company, but as folk enjoy drinking outdoors and making a racket, it still continues to this day as well.  The Taunton company was a big concern, but it was swallowed by the giant Matthew Clark company and is now part of Gaymers Cider.  You may remember some of Taunton Cider's brands as they included the infamous Diamond White (still produced by Gaymer's), Special Vat, Taunton Original and Dry Blackthorn.

Carhampton Wassailing Song

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.

For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs,

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

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