Steyning Community Orchard Wassail 19th January 2019

It is that time of year again. The Christmas sparkle has been cleared away with the decorations and the anticipation of New Year has faded as the dark, grey days of January stretch before us. Yet there is something in the air, in the damp early mornings and the evening dusk; a freshness, a tingle, a hint of special magic; the year is turning, the days will soon lengthen, things will start to grow and spring will push aside winter.

It is time for Steyning’s annual Wassail. Time to wake our sleeping fruit trees from their winter slumber in our Community Orchard.

The word ‘Wassail’ from the Anglo-Saxon greeting ‘Waes hael’ means ‘be hale’; ‘be in good health’. For hundreds of years, people have gathered to go Orchard Wassailing on the eve of Twelfth Night, the 5th January (or in the old Julien calendar the 17th January) to rouse their winter fruit trees into life with chanting and singing; beating the trees with sticks to wake them, praising the trees for past harvests and exhorting them to ‘be hale’ for the coming season and harvest.

We invite you to join in our revival of this ancient tradition. It is fun, dark, noisy, pagan and you must bring a saucepan, whistle or a drum.

It begins outside the Cricket Club with the arrival of Mythago Morris; a group of Morris dancers with blackened faces and tatter jackets who lead us into the evening’s ceremony with dancing and Wassailing songs.

Once everyone is gathered, Mythago set off across the Memorial Playing Field to the Community Orchard waiting quietly in the darkness for our arrival. We are led in a circle around an old, venerable apple tree which glows softly with candles lit amongst its branches. Then the fun begins as the tree is woken from its winter sleep and any evil spirits dwelling within are chased away with chanting and the cry of Wassail, the stamping of feet, the banging of pans, and the blowing of whistles.

An offering is made to the tree. Everyone is invited to dip a slice of toast in a specially prepared Wassail bowl filled with mead, crab apples, sugar, spices and egg and hang it in the branches of the tree, a token of thanks for the fruit it has borne the previous year and a gift to the tree spirit living within it. With a final roar of noise, the celebration draws to a close and people drift back to the Cricket Club leaving the orchard in peace, surrounded by the night and the stars.

But the evening is not finished. Wassailing is hungry work and we invite you to enjoy some homemade soup and rolls, music and good company in the warmth of the Cricket Club on your return from the orchard.

Saturday, 19th January, 2019. Cricket Club
18:00 for 8:30 Donations towards Wassailing.
Soup served with a roll in the cricket club
£3 adults, £1.50 children.

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