This year in Leominster (pronounced Lemster) the Leominster Morris Men led the traditional wassailing of the apple trees. Herefordshire isn’t the only place in England where this happens but this year it was photographed by Matt Cardy. I don’t know of any Leominster wassailing songs but the one I sing here is from Somerset.
Waes haeil is Middle English for ‘be in good health’ (be whole, hale). The purpose of wassailing is to celebrate the trees and the season and to ward off any evil that might interfere with them. As an extra precaution nowadays shotguns are sometimes fired into the branches. (Centuries ago it would have been arrows.) The dancing movements in some areas and times of year include stamping (to awaken the sleeping earth) and leaping (to encourage the crops to grow high).
Although the song’s words are a good deal corrupted and confused, making the meaning and the connection with the custom rather obscured, wassailing in orchard, street or public house is a tradition that goes back a long time and for many it’s a reminder of the need to look after the land and crops and say thank you for its fertility.
The photograph is copyright Matt Cardy/Getty Images and if you go to the BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-38517447 you’ll see more.
There’s more about Leominster Morris here on WordPress: https://leominstermorris.wordpress.com/the-wassail/