Monday, 6 January 2020

Twelfth Night, Epiphany and Wassailing

Hiya, I'm back - not that I've been anywhere. Many thanks for comments on the New Year post. Having a few days off blogging has given me time to sort out some things to write about for at least the rest of this week.

I don't know if  it was an omen for a good year but opening the bedroom curtains yesterday morning I spotted a hare passing through the garden - it's been a while since I saw one. (Although later I found a half dead mouse in the living room - don't know what that foretells for January!)

The Twelfth night after Christmas marked the end of Yule festivities. All decorations had to be taken down and the holly and other green stuff would be burned. It was once thought that every holly leaf left indoors after this date would turn into a mischievous spirit.
In medieval times there would be games and feasting  and in Tudor times a masque or play would be presented and it was usual back then to have a Twelfth Night Cake which had a bean baked into it and whoever found the bean would be King for the day. That custom faded away when Christmas cakes became more popular.
Epiphany is the  Christian Feast day marking the visit of  the Wise Men from the East bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus.

My favourite thing for Twelfth Night is wassailing the apple trees. I've been doing this for years and it never makes any difference to the amount of apples but I'm ever hopeful. Last year was a poor crop - not quite as bad as 2012 but almost.

 Although there is an old saying
Sun through the Apple trees on Christmas Day means a fine crop is on the way.
And there was sunshine here on Christmas day - so maybe this year will be better.  

 This year I was able to find out more about Wassailing from the book that I picked up at a boot sale last September. It has stories of old celebrations and accounts of all the "Re-awakenings"..........  that is new events that have started since the mid C20.

 Also found this recipe  for a traditional Suffolk Wassail drink (according to a Lavender and Lovage website) Although in my 64 years in Suffolk I've never heard of it before.

  • 6 small apples, cored
  • 6 teaspoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 orange
  • 6 cloves
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 litres cider
  • 300mls port
  • 300mls sherry or Madeira
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 lemon, halved

Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
Step 2 Cut around the middle of each apple with a sharp knife and place them in an oven proof dish. Fill each apple core cavity with a teaspoon of sift brown sugar. Stick the cloves in the orang and place it with the apples in the dish. Add a little water, about 6 tablespoons and roast in the pre-heated oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the apples are soft but still retain their shape.
Step 3 Leave the apples in the dish to keep warm and take the orange out - cut it in half and place it on a large sauce pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and the juices from the apple roasting dish to the sauce pan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Step 4 Bring the mixture to the boil and then turn it down immediately and keep it warm until you need to serve it.
Step 5 When you are ready to serve the wassail, ladle the fruit and spiced into a large punch bowl and then pour the wassail into the bowl. Add the apples by floating them on top and serve straight away in warmed mugs or cups.
Step 6 The apples can be eaten afterwards as a delectable dessert with cream or custard

 Sounds good to me..................... although I have no plans to make any.

My celebration involved soaking a bit of toast in apple juice and laying it on one of the biggest branches of the biggest apple tree and then pouring some apple juice on the should be cider but that's not something I have around................maybe that's why it doesn't work?
Then while hitting the apple tree trunk with a stick you have to chant .

Old apple tree, we wassail thee and
hope that thou wilt bear
Hats-full, caps-full, three-bushel bags full
And a little heap under the stairs
Hip Hip Hooray 

I've found this verse is actually the last bit  of a longer wassailing song..............

Old apple tree we wassail thee
And hoping thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
‘Til apples come another year
For to bear well and to bloom 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 will bear
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three bushel bag fulls
And a little heap under the stair
Hip! Hip! Hooray!

In some places celebrations include firing guns through the branches, I don't do that....obviously, and I have to chant quietly to avoid worrying the next door neighbours!

If the weather is too awful for wassailing Apple trees on this Twelfth Night it's OK to put it off until the 17th which is 'Old Twelfth Night' using the calendar which was in use until 1752.

Back Tomorrow


  1. The Wassail drink sounds delicious.
    I hope you get a plentiful crop of apples this year, but next January I'd like to think of you chanting loudly and worrying the neighbours :)

  2. I hope it works and you get a good amount of apples this year. I was just thinking the same as Jude, wonder what your neighbours think if they notice you chanting to your tree!

  3. Jules not Jude. I cannot type this morning. Nice to see you back, by the way.

  4. It's good to see you back Sue and hope you had a little rest. Hope you have a good amount of apples this year, I had my tree taken down I bit last year.

    Hazel c uk

  5. Good to come back with a fresh mind and more to say. Chant quietly and don't dance round the tree, that will get the neighbours worried.

  6. Epiphany is still celebrated on the continent, with different cakes, in Switzerland they have a yeasty 'three kings cake'containing a small plastic figure of a king. Again, the result is the same, the person who gets it is King for the day.

  7. I always keep a jug of Christmas greenery out until Candlemas, there is so little colour about the red in the holly berries always make me smile. They are all silk, so I have no issues with shedding. Coming from Somerset, Wassailing was always fun.

  8. Lavender and Lovage is a wonderful site and book, but my goodness the book is pricy! Love the cover of the book you found. In parts of Wales, New Year is celebrated Jan 13 on Hen Galan.

  9. Well my apple tree was basked in sunshine on Christmas Day. I’m going to try the cider. I’m wondering if it disinfects the tree from pests a bit. I shall do the chant. My neighbours are deaf:)

  10. I think I will just give my apple tree a good hug when we go up to the cottage - it is 250 miles away at present so Wassailing is out for me.

  11. Holly leaves become mischievous spirits? Heck! Do they have to be burned or do they allow composting?

  12. Interesting folk lore. I never realized that one needed to burn holly (not that we have any here) or that mischievous sprites would appear.

    God bless.

  13. I really enjoyed your post, and it reflects much of what I also posted about Twelfth Night and Old Christmas. We wassailed our trees one year, and got not one apple that year! I'm sure we must have done something wrong, but it was great fun. Burned our greens yesterday evening, except the mistletoe which will be carefully packed away to be burned in next year's winter solstice fire and replaced with new. It's supposed to be good luck to keep the mistletoe in the house all year, so why take chances I say.

  14. I've got that book too. It's the couple behind the Hedingham Fair company. I read it was traditional to have blackbird pie on 12th night too at one time. Arilx

  15. It's good to see you back! I hope you had a nice break. I enjoy hearing about wassailing and the old ways. I always learn a lot from your posts.

  16. That drink sounds very warming but would probably make me pie eyed - it doesn't take much.

  17. Enjoyed reading about this.
    Good luck with this years crop, hope its a good one.

  18. I have some cider left over from Christmas dinner so I will add a cinnamon stick and some sherry to it and call it a Wassail.

  19. I never knew about wassailing an apple tree. Fascinating! And the recipe sounds very good!

  20. Thanks for sharing such a nice content. Your post was really good. Some ideas can be made. About English literature. Further, you can access this site to learn more about Shakespeare’s Use of Disguise in The Twelfth Night