On Saturday afternoon we will be wassailing the apple trees in the orchard at Old Frog Pond Farm. We want to thank them for such good harvest in 2015 and encourage their fruiting for 2016. Wassailing is an old English Christmas tradition where farmers would visit the orchards with bowls of cider and gather around one of the largest trees. They would pour libations on the roots and hang bits of bread dipped in cider on the limbs for the robins, the good spirits who would protect the trees. The farmers would of course drink the cider too, and then circling around the tree they would sing
Here's to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Bushel, bushel, sacks-full!
And my pockets full, too! Hurra!
Wassailing celebrates the gifts from the trees by returning a portion of what we have been given. The ritual acknowledges nature’s generosity and our dependence on her.
Bread and cider are the pagan sacraments for this orchard communion. Bread is food, a symbol for well-being, and physical sustenance. Cider quenches thirst — perhaps physical as well as spiritual. This golden juice is the sun, the rain, and the soil through the living tree.
Thoreau writes about wassailing in his essay, Wild Apples. He also mentions ‘apple howling’ where a group of boys would go out to the orchards and sing while knocking the trunks with sticks
Stand fast, root! bear well, top!
Pray God send us a good howling crop:
Every twig, apples big;
Every bough, apples enow!
This howling feels almost like a wake-up call, like the Zen masters’ use of the keisaku, the hitting stick to wake up their students and call them back to the reality of the present moment. “Don’t slumber too long, trees! We love you. We count on your fruit.”
For our Wassailing celebration at the farm, we’ll toast with our own hot mulled cider and listen to original poems written for the trees. We’ll sing and send out prayers that all creatures will have food, shelter, and bear fruit in 2016 — the microbial population in the soil, sea turtles and polar bears, all people everywhere. If you’d like to join us, bring a little bread for the birds, and we’ll meet at 3 pm in the orchard.