Who was the wise soul who first understood how essential it is at this time of year to dispel the gloomy undertones of darkness? Knew that it was now ourselves that needed to be nurtured and encouraged? Knew, without a study or a report, the human heart well and knew that it was the time for recognition, reward, comfort and joy? Maybe it was Mother Nature herself who initiated these autumnal and solstice celebrations that we’ve maintained and transformed for more than 5,000 years.
We still deck our halls with evergreens brought indoors and festooned with bright bits. We still give gifts and tokens to those who are dear. We still gather family and friends to indulge in seasonal and cultural feasts. We make a greater effort to reach out to far-flung friends, even if it is only a cheerful card. We still take the time to raise a glass of our choosing together. We still sing. Even if we can’t do it well. And our spirits climb with each song.
This singing has had many names. Waes Hael, a guest greeting meaning “Be Thou Hale”, was given along with a full cup of fermented cider. It spawned a practice of singing to orchard trees to promote a good harvest. Soul cakes of spices, nuts and dried fruits were iced with a cross to designate them as alms for Soulers who came through towns A’souling, or singing and praying in hopes of tasty treats. This ritual begging, locally modified, was known from Ireland to Italy. The custom of Yulesinging traveled westward from Germany and the Nordic countries across the North Sea bringing the companion rituals of the Yule Log and the Yule Boar to the Anglo Saxon England eons prior to the arrival of Christianity. In the oldest of these songs are requests for food and drink. Finally there is Caroling, which has incorporated quite a few of the elements of Wassailing, A’Souling and Yulesinging. You’ll probably recognize many of requests in the lyrics of familiar songs:
“Go down into your cellars and see what you can find
Your barrels are not empty, we hope you will be kind.”
“An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.”
“We want some figgy pudding. We want some figgy pudding.
We want some figgy pudding. So bring it right here.
We won’t go until we get some. We won’t go until we get some.
We won’t go until we get some. So bring it right here.”
“Wassail, wassail all over the town!
Our toast it is white, our ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.”
This tradition of singing for your supper has waxed, waned and metamorphosed in the intervening millenniums. Once, traveling bards served as the newscasters of their day. They brought tales of weddings, births, disasters natural and otherwise, murder, stolen wives, wars, political conspiracies, new technologies and trade intrigues, frequently woven into songs. Personally, given the overpopulation of bobble-headed television reporters, I’d be delighted with a bard or two.
In holiday seasons past, we’ve offered such recipes as Thyme and Maple Roasted Rack of Venison and many other seasonal recipes, available on the web site. Today’s recipe is for a Pear Cranberry Tart. Despite the look of it, it’s quite readily accomplished and a wonderful, festive change of pace.