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Winter Solstice and the Avening Wassail

Finch the Woodsman writes:

The longest night has been a centre of ritual for centuries. Today at 15:59 GMT the north pole of the Earth’s axis was leaning furthest from the sun, resulting in the shortest days in the northern hemisphere and the longest in the southern.

Here in the woods, we have a close relationship with the seasons. Us early risers climbed to a spot we called Pargeter's View to greet the sun. There was a staff made for the occasion, a beech pole with a muntjac skull and a sprig of holly.

It’s understandable how many of the Christmas and Yule traditions came about from people who lived in the country as part of the environment. The value of the evergreen holly and ivy standing out against the plain browns of the bare trees is obvious. It is a celebration of their life to collect their branches to make the house a little more decorative.

Imagine what it would be like for those on the Middle Age faced with the daunting prospects of January and February weather without having the joys of solstice celebrations. (Even today I would struggle to face the dark winter without appreciating the small things like the greenness of the ivy whilst all else seems bleak)

In Gloucestershire, a local tradition would be to go wassailing around the town in pubs and at people’s doors like carol singing. These would be songs of good health wished to landlords and ask for treats of beer and cake (figgy pudding). A version of a song from Avening goes…

“Wassail, wassail, all over the town.

Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown.

Our cup it is made from some maypolin’ tree.

With a wassailing song we sing unto thee.

Sing unto thee, we sing unto thee,

With a wassailing song we sing unto thee.”

A happy solstice and Christmas tidings to all. Here's another Gloucestershire version, folk-style, to warm the spirit.

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