The historicity of the British folkloric tradition of wassailing is somewhat contested; it's commonly described as being an ancient pagan custom, though there is limited evidence to support this view. What adds to the confusion surrounding its origins is the wassailing events which commonly take place today - and the community songs which are performed during them - are actually a conflation of two completely different traditions, both with their earliest documented instances dating back to around the 115th Century of the Human Era (15th Century), but the only common feature they share is the use of the word 'wassail' (originally an Old Norse word which passed into Old English meaning 'good health!' or 'blessings!') in their name. One custom had groups of peasants processing to the manor house of the feudal lord asking for - or in certain instances demanding with menaces - food and drink, whilst the other custom originating in fruit-growing areas of people going round the orchards to bless the trees in the hope of a good harvest for the coming autumn.
So what we commonly have today is a syncretic tradition of community events involving some or all of singing, Morris dancing (itself a folkloric tradition which as practiced today has origins considerably more modern than usually credited as), story-telling, noise-making, cider-drinking, food-sharing, tree-blessing, and processing through the town or village.
But of course just because a tradition isn't as old or as 'authentic' as some of its proponents might claim it to be, if it's a fun [...]
Read the rest of Stirchley / Broadmeadow Wassail, 2022.