Wassail, wassail all over town

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Neale East has spring in his step

Locals gathered at the Oak public house in Rye Foreign on Saturday January 10 to drive away evil spirits from the orchard and ensure a good crop of apples later in the year. The annual ritual includes representatives of spring and winter as well as singing and dancing and a hot cider wassail cup.

Bonfire Boyes from Hastings and Rye were out in force for the annual ceremony in full regalia as well as a motley crew of other characters, including soldiers, green men and women, druids and Morris dancers.

The dancers, mostly from Hastings explained that they mainly followed the Cotswold form of the Morris, but some were black faced in the Border tradition. This came about as English Morris dancers, going into Wales, essentially to beg for bread, needed to conceal their identity to escape the authorities.

The name “wassail” comes from the salute “Waes Hail”, a simple greeting used as part of a mediaeval German drinking ritual. The later Danish speaking inhabitants of England seem to have mutated this into the question “Was hail” and the replay “Drink hail”, a drinking formula enthusiastically adopted by the indigenous population of England.

Bangs and flashes drive awa apple-stealing spirits
Bangs and flashes drive away apple-stealing spirits

The ritual culminated in what seemed like a full scale nuclear war as firecrackers exploded within an apple tree, surrounded by burning pitch torches. It seemed fairly certain that any lurking evil spirits would have certainly given up and fled under that bombardment.

Elsewhere in Rye, other apple trees are getting more gentle treatment to keep them safe in the months ahead.

Photos: Seana Lanigan