Whilst researching the Basque language and tradition for my recent “Contemporary European Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict” (or essentially, “genocide, civil war, and terror in Europe recently”) history course, I found a delightful article that detailed a New Year’s tradition I would much like to see in the states: wassailing.
The tradition of wassailing (from Saxon, was heil: to be whole) varies depending on where you go. Some wassailing takes place in Autumn apple orchards as a celebration. some wassailers (. . . wassailants?) go door-to-door singing, and the residents give them the namesake drink, wassail–or in other cases the wassailers might bring their own wassail (BYOW) door to door. The drink itself is often a hot apple cider with spices like ginger, nutmeg, and clove (and often some sort of booze). But in 1930s Basque, wassailers don’t just ask for drink, but often eggs or various pork products.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
The gypsies of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, for instance, go the round of the houses, armed with pointed sticks similar to those of Biscay, and singing:
This year like last year
Santibat sends us out
That we may too have bacon
You are sitting in a chair
(Dressed in) bright colours,
Will you get up
To give me bacon?
They then proceed to flatter the residents of the house through song. If the wassailers succeed, they sing thanks to the generous. If they receive nothing, they sing insults, such as:
Come let us go hence,
There is no bacon here.
In the larders of this house
The mice rear their young
I don’t know if the Basques still uphold this tradition, but I sure hope they do. Considering their tenacity about tradition, I bet there is still some hint of it, if nothing else. Now if we could just bring this tradition stateside. I could enjoy singing door-to-door for bacon and cider.
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone.
Gallop, Rodney A. “Basque Wassailing Songs.” Music & Letters, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Oct., 1930), pp. 324-340. Oxford University Press.