Friday, November 22, 2013

Wassailing (The Origins of Caroling) and the Christmas Goat

  (Gloucestershire version) "Wassail, wassail all over the town; our bread it is white and our ale it is brown, our bowl it is made of the white apple tree, with a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.

1. wassail, waassail, all over the town; our bread it is white and our ale it is brown, our bowl it is made of the white apple tree, with a wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.
 2. come, butler, come fill us a bowl of the best, we'll pray that your soul in heaven will rest; but if you do draw us a bowl of the small, may the devil take butler, bowl, and all!
 3. so here's to the maid in the lily-white smock, who skipped to the door and slipped back the lock
who skipped to the door and pulled back the pin,
for to let these jolly wassailers come in.
 4. come mother, and fill us a bowl of the best; we'll drink it down slowly and sing that much less.  but if you do bring us a bowl of the small, we'll wassail the night all here in your hall.
 5. and here's to the granny that sits by the fire, come make us some room and we'll sing you an hour.  we'll sing you and hour, and if you can hear, we'll drink to your health, and a happy new year."

I encourage you to check out a short clip on Wassailing in Norma Waterson's class on folk singing (#6)
 Norma Waterson's class on Folk Singing

Wassailing appears to have originated with farm workers, who would have needed extra food and money for this time of year (since they were out of work).  They went door to door, put black grease or paint on their faces, sometimes took their swords too.  I may be viewing this the wrong way, but there could be a threat there.  Gangs of men, going to door to door, with no way to tell who they were, some armed and demanding ale and food.  Sounds safer to me, to just give them what they wanted so they could be on their way.
The men didn't just beg for food however, they sang songs and performed Mummer's plays for the entertainment of their hosts, entertainment well worth the price in the cold, dark days of winter.  It would have been like a traveling party.
Julebukking in Norway

  Norway had it's own similar customs, but it was/is called "julebukking" (the word "Julebukker" literally meaning, "Christmas goats").  The oldest accounts have people dressing up as goats (complete with goat-skins), and researchers are unsure as to why it is this particular animal.  Some have hypothesized it has something to do with the God Thor, or scaring away any spirits that have slipped through the thin veil (in norway the veil is thinnest around the winter solstice.  Anyone listening to the cold wind howl in a bad winter could imagine why that might be). Later traditions left out the goat-skins and made their costumes from cloth. An 1890s memoir by Halvor Floden of Trysil in Eastern Norway stated that in his day "they took a white cloth and cut out holes for eyes and mouth, smeared on some soot and red paint, and that made a mask...when the time came for the bukkene to go to the table, their masks came off and the children would yell in the greatest amazement, "no was it you, Johanne!" The bukkene brought along their ordinary clothes and changed into them to become people again.  Now everyone joined in the ring-dancing that made the kitchen shake..." (Stokker, Kathleen.  Keeping Christmas, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1946.)
  Later traditions look more similar to America's Halloween, with the booze and adults being replaced by children and candy, the more scary looking masks being replaced with carnival ones.

  For a little more insight as to why this practice is so focused on goats see this:
An Asatru Blog

  A little research on "Krampus" which Kevin mentions in his blog does indeed strike a chord.  Could it be that the pre-christian Santa Claus of that region was actually a half-human Goat-god?  I am immediately struck by the similarities of the myths associated with Krampus and Lillith, or Holda, as the old God or Goddess became demonized by those in power.  Perhaps Goat, was the meat of choice this time of year...

 "During the 19th century the Yule goat's role all over Scandinavia shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts, with one of the men in the family dressing up as the Yule goat.[5] In this, there might be a relation to Santa Claus and the Yule goat's origin in the medieval celebrations of Saint Nicholas.[2] The goat was then replaced by the jultomte (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) or julenisse at the end of the century, although he is still called the Yule goat (Joulupukki) in Finland, and the tradition of the man-sized goat disappeared."

above paragraph found here
  It is interesting to me that the Yule goat gave gifts so late as the 19th century.  I wonder if this was a new tradition or a return to an older one?  The search continues...It makes sense to me that when the goat was slaughtered for meat, the people might want to give gifts to the spirit of it.  Our ancestors may seem to be callous to some, but there were no cafos (confined animal farming operations) hidden deep in the country to keep them from the reality of their food.  They were unable to keep their animals in such deplorable conditions or they would not even make it to butcher, milk or breed (no vaccines and antibiotics back then).
 Instead, they understood that the spirits of ill-treated animals would come back to haunt them, or that the nature spirits would make the land infertile.  You can explain this with science, saying that if you ill-treat an animal long enough, it will cease to be healthy and fertile, or you can say the "Nisse" is angry with you, in the end, it matters not.  Perhaps if we still had these superstitions our people, our land, our animals would be healthy, instead of learning the hard way, after the fertility of the land has gone, and the health of Her people and animals is in decline.