Wassailing Away

E.O. Schaub

Now, I know most of you out there probably spent the evening of January seventeenth in much the same way as I did: wandering through a snowy apple orchard in the dark, carrying torches and banging on percussive instruments. However, for those few of you who didn’t, perhaps I should explain.

You see, last week we were lucky enough to be invited along on a wassailing— yes, as in “Here we go a-wassailing…” (not to mention the ever-popular eighties hit “Come Wassail Away (with me)” by Styx.) An event with roots in the old english countryside-— we’re talking Beowolf old here— wassailing evolved as a ritualistic way to celebrate and encourage the health of the apple orchard for the coming year. Personally, there’s nothing I like better than a good old fashioned pagan ritual to start the New Year off right. After all the crass, “Buy me a Barbie Hummer!” commercialism of Christmastime, it can be something of a relief to return to a simpler time when celebrations merely involved riotous public drunkenness and animal sacrifice.

Kidding! Of course, no animals were intentionally slaughtered at this event. Our friend Sue, who along with her husband Dan, own the orchard in question and were the masterminds behind the event, billed the evening as “The safest event featuring both firearms and alcohol north of the Mason-Dixon line.” Well, you certainly can’t pass up an opportunity like that.

Now, gathering around a ninety year old apple tree to sing songs to it, pour cider on its roots, stick bread in its branches and shoot the bad spirits out of it sounds straightforward enough, but there are in fact many important details which must be observed if you are truly going to ward off such godless fruit terrorists as the Obliquebanded Leafroller, the Spotted Tentiform Bud Maggot, and the Fourteen-Nostrilled Bucket-Weevil.

And I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re saying, “Eve, next Twelfth Night will be here before we know it. Do you have any tips for our next wassailing?” As a matter of fact, I do.


Ask yourself:

-Do I have a large vat of ceremonial booze strong enough to erode paint? Can it be transported to the wassailing site on sticks/ by antique rickshaw/ on the back of a pregnant donkey?

-Is there an assortment of appropriately festive headgear? Beaded headresses, floral garlands and mostly-dead animals are popular choices.

-On a related note, will there be good blackmail photographs after the fact?

-Do I have good stuff for making noise? A must for every reveler, noisemakers may include drums, whistles, castanets and electronic banjo.

-Can I burn stuff?

-Will it make the neighbors pee their pants/ call the police/ move?

Once you have covered the basics above, some optional nice touches include:

-Tim’s brother wearing horns

-Sue directing mass pandemonium from behind a clipboard

-Accordion music

-Steve, armed and torch-bearing, directing traffic between pedestrian revelers and pale, panic-stricken motorists.

Of course, if you are conducting your wassailing within the state of Vermont you will need to have a potluck immediately following the event in order to avoid a hefty fine. It will be mass chaos with children eating twelve desserts under the table before spending the rest of the evening jumping on one another and howling like wild animals. Adults, still wearing puffy coats and funny hats will be chatting and laughing with wind-red cheeks and ample amounts of hard cider to go around, somehow sopping up soup with forks and eating noodles with spoons. You won’t remember when you have ever had such a good time.

You know, I knew we had chosen the right place to live.

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