The influence of the Julian Calendar continues in these parts. Whoever was responsible for the inscription in Low Ham church, from the Book of Proverbs Chapter 24 Verse 1, “My sonne, fears God and the Kinge and meddle not with them that are given to change,” perhaps had a feeling for a mood of the place. Not being given to change would explain why the local Twelfth Night celebration, the wassail, takes place this weekend.
The wassail was a ritual asking God for a good apple harvest, it traditionally took place on Twelfth Night, 5th January, the eve of Epiphany and last night of Christmas. However, the ritual predated the adoption of the Gregorian calendar so continues to be observed twelve days later in some communities, meaning Twelfth Night is 17th January, and, its observance being moved to the weekend, it takes place on 20th January this year.
The local traditions have included firing shotguns up through the branches of the apple trees to ensure a good harvest, along, of course with much eating and drinking. Morrismen will add to the festivities. The song The Somerset Wassail comes from our neighbouring parish of Langport.
“Wassail and wassail all over the town
The cup it is white and the ale it is brown
The cup it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the malt of the best barley
For its your wassail and its our wassail
And its joy be to you and a jolly wassail
Oh master and missus, are you all within?
Pray open the door and let us come in
O master and missus a-sitting by the fire
Pray think on us poor travellers, a travelling in the mire
Oh where is the maid with the silver-headed pin
To open the door and let us come in
Oh master and missus, it is our desire
A good loaf and cheese and a toast by the fire
There was an old man and he had an old cow
And how for to keep her he didn’t know how
He built up a barn for to keep his cow warm
And a drop or two of cider will do us no harm
The girt dog of Langport he burnt his long tail
And this is the night we go singing wassail
O master and missus now we must be gone
God bless all in this house until we do come again.”
In times of globalisation, there is encouragement in staunch maintenance of local tradition.