Originating from the old Norse greeting of, “ves heill”, Wassailing is an old English tradition to celebrate the ‘Twelfth Night’ (often marked on either January 5th or 6th). However, pupils discovered that some people still Wassail on what’s known as “Old Twelvey Night”, on January 17th, as it would have been before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar back in 1582. Pupils learnt that the tradition of celebrating “Old Twelvey Night” was a possible inspiration for Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’, and also, that it might be the origin for the carol, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.
Queen’s College Art, Design and Food Faculty, inspired by the traditional old English celebration, hosted their own Wassailing event this week in the school orchard space of Wyvern House. We learnt that the first person to cross the threshold of the establishment is traditionally crowned either the ‘Wassail King’ or ‘Wassail Queen’, and this first year at Queen’s Nana (Year 7) became our first Queen’s College ‘Wassail Queen’ and wore a beautiful crown made from sculpting foliage found growing around the school and created by classes in Art under the direction of Art Teacher Miss Spall. Indeed, there were many crowns created in Art for all the pupils. After gathering in our school orchard space the pupils gave thanks for the previous apple harvest at school and gifted our apple trees to encourage a successful crop for the coming year. Continuing with the Wassail traditions the pupils had learnt they placed slices of stale toast on the lower branches of the fruit trees which we discovered is where the saying ‘making a toast’ comes from. This at first seems an unusual practice but as bread is organic it will encourage birds to feed and at the same time fertilise the ground beneath the trees. Pupils also tied brightly coloured ribbons to the branches, which we found acts as a deterrent for any pests, which might feast on the young buds.
We were greatly honoured to meet visiting guest Mr Gordon Field, an artist and tree dowser, who checked the wellbeing of our trees and brought traditional gifts to be placed on each tree. These gifts were all biodegradable and took the form of homemade little wooden bee ornaments. We were all very relieved to hear that he reported our trees were all healthy and we should expect a good harvest later this year at Queen’s College. Several of our pupils then read verses from traditional Wassail poems, and then all enjoyed a variety of traditional foods and drinks made in class under the direction of Food Teacher Mrs Barker and Food Technician Geraldine. These included Mini Wassail Batter Puddings with Sausage (or toad in the hole) and to follow, Wassail Honey and Apple Cake. These were made by the pupils using traditional recipes, ingredients, and measurements taken from around the time Henry VIII was on the throne. The cake was particularly challenging to make but well worth it. These delights were washed down with a homemade fruit Wassail Punch, a non-alcoholic mulled apple juice drink with locally made Somerset cider vinegar, which was also used in the toast to the apple trees.
To end our celebration we were surprised and delighted in equal measures, as we were treated to some traditional folk music from Mr Higgs Head of Design and Technology and a keen Morris Man, on his melodeon.
Grateful thanks go to our special guests Mr and Mrs Field for giving up their time to come and talk to our pupils.
(As a final note, it was Percy, our Queen’s College dog, who stole the show, quite literally, by helping himself to a couple of slices of toast which had been placed within jumping height for a stealthy dog!)