Stroud Wassail: Saturday, January 14, 2017
- Credit: Sharon Kilyon Photography
The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo¬Saxon greeting Wæs þu hæl (‘be in good health’), to which the correct response is of course Drinc hæl. As drinking toasts go, preferable to ‘cheers’, I think.
The good people of Stroud have revived the tradition of travelling door¬to¬door with a variety of ‘beasts’ led by the Lord of Misrule and accompanied by the Broad and, take it from me, it’s an obscene amount of fun.
To get in the spirit of the festivities, here’s a few pointers of what to expect from organiser Robin Burton…
Waes Hael, Robin!
Drinc Hael, Candia!
What can we expect from the day’s festivities?
Dancing, singing, plays, storytelling and spectacle. I think it is possibly the most fun you can have in January without leaving the country. We expect at least 200 performers to take part at various venues across the town
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What’s the significance of the ‘beasts’?
The beasts represent the wassailers’ wishes for their audience. For example, in Gloucestershire many people were involved in cattle. So we have the Broad, a representation of an ox. We are wishing cattle farmers success.
Who is the Lord of Misrule, and how do you choose the Broad?
The Lord of Misrule is in charge of the proceedings throughout the day. He leads the wassailers to the door of the Subscription Rooms, and the door of the Museum in the Park, and reads a proclamation. “I do hearby give notice to the nobility, gentry and communality of Stroud… that… on this day… all bolts, bars and latches which lock up the heart be broken! The heart shall be proclaimed undisputed monarch and reign commence forthwith…” To be selected as the Broad you need to be a good dancer and capable of creating mayhem. His/her role is to charge into buildings and drive the occupants out to meet the wassailers.
What are the origins of wassailing?
Wassailing is very ancient. In fact it is probably the most truly traditional part of festivities around the Christmas period. In the depths of winter, there was very little work for the agricultural poor. One of the ways in which they could make ends meet was to visit their wealthier neighbours and perform songs and plays in return for food and drink. The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘Waes Hael’ meeting ‘be whole’ or ‘be healthy’ and is thought to be the origin of our modern habit of saying ‘to your health’ or ‘cheers’ when we take a drink.
Which version of the Wassail Song do you favour?
We have collected some 17 wassails from Gloucestershire. You can find them on the Gloucestershire Traditions website www.glostrad.com. Personally, I like the Shurdington Wassail because of the way that it bowls along, but mainly because it is from just down the road from where I live
What’s the tipple of choice in your own wassail cup?
Personally, I like good English beer, especially if it is made in the Cotswolds.
What mysteries can you reveal from the evening’s Revels in the Sub Rooms?
That would be telling. Suffice to say that you should come prepared to dance, to sing and to thoroughly enjoy yourself. And, if you can, come in disguise. Prizes might be involved!
Have you experienced wassailing anywhere else in the country? How do Stroud’s celebrations compare?
I took part in the Chepstow Wassail last year, acting as Butler for the English side. That was all about waking up the apple trees and cider. It was hugely enjoyable and I hope to visit again this year. Our celebration is more related to the much older tradition of door to door visiting. We have also added in mumming plays and the Mid Winter Revels at the Subscription Rooms to broaden the entertainment for our visitors.
Saturday, January 14, 7pm
The Revels is a masked ball based on the 12th night revels of medieval times, when the world is turned upside-down, and includes Ceilidh dancing, mummers, Morris, wassailers, storytelling, folk chill lounge and much more. Prizes for the best masked costume.
Tickets £10 adv; £12 door.
Stroud Subscription Rooms, tel: 01453 760900
THE STROUD WASSAIL
all over the town,
Our bread it is white and our
ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made from
some mappelin tree
With my waysailing bowl,
I drink to thee.