Hullabaloo is what has marked the bringing in of the New Year for centuries, even as far back as ancient times. For fur traders and pioneers in the American wilderness, it was a way to drive out the drear of the long winter, with excessive drink, gambling, wresting, and firing guns into the night. Even in genteel colonial societies the occasion was marked with noise.
For many, a common way to welcome the New Year has been with the ringing of bells. Here's an excerpt from "In Memoriam", Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem that celebrates the eagerness of dispensing with the past and moving on to a brighter, newer future:
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the new.
Church bells chimed the New Year from many a steeple to welcome change or hearken some good news, but in some places, the ringing of the bells meant more. It meant a lot of superstition. For to some, bells might have been used almost as a charm. Sometimes rung to ward off evil, bell-ringing was frequently done at the foot of a dying person's bed, "to drive away evil spirits…ready to seize their prey or at least molest or terrify the soul in its passage". Yikes!
Then there was the New Year's wassail. I love me a good wassail—the beverage anyway—mulled cider, hot and spicy. But the wassail was also part of a bell ringing ceremony. Colonists as well as folk around the world in Colonial times and before thought they could only guarantee a good apple crop for making said wassail if they traipsed out on New Year's Eve to the orchard and partook in a ceremony of hullabaloo to "encourage" the trees to bear a heavy crop the following fall.
The ceremony, often referred to as Wassailing, or better yet, an Apple Howling (see where we're going here?) began with a procession of bell ringers and noise makers making their way to the orchard, carrying a big bowl of wassail. Once there, they would encircle a select apple tree and thrash it with sticks. (You've got to wonder how that "encouraged" the tree to bear. Maybe they meant to coax the tree into producing a bumper crop in much the same way a strict Dickensian schoolhouse master might "encourage" a small boy to learn his letters…)
So, anyhow, they beat the poor tree. While so doing, they would pour the wassail onto the roots to further stimulate it, and recite this lovely little verse several times while so doing:
Stand fast root, bear well top,
Pray God send us a good howling crop;
Every twig, apples big;
Every bough, apples enou;
Hats full, caps full,
Full quarter sacks full.
This might then be accompanied by more bells as well as some gunshots and whatever noise-makers the good orchard folk brought along—be it pots and pans or dustbin lids. If you'd get a kick out of seeing an Apple Howling nowadays, there are Youtube videos and places you can travel to and join in the festive event. (Not sure that one's going on my bucket list…)
I have apple trees too, but I think I'll come up with another plan to encourage production that bypasses a cold New Year's Apple Howling. Nevertheless, please…do pass me the wassail anyway.
Speaking of BEVERAGES, here's an update to my post last month on making SHRUB, the colonial fruit and vinegar refreshment.
After letting the shrub marinate (for lack of a better term) in my fridge for over three weeks, I strained out the berries (doing it a couple of times until the juice ran clear). I then added a couple cups of sugar and cooked it until it was thoroughly dissolved. This I chilled, and then it was ready to try out.
My family sampled it with a topper of sparkling water and a splash of hesitation. Most agreed, it was interesting and rather good. Some liked it thin (only a couple of teaspoons to a glass of sparkling water), and some liked it a little stronger (a couple of tablespoons). I say it was good and refreshing! I will tell you though, you can definitely taste the vinegar. I'd like to do this again with strawberries and be true to the measurements. I used a little too much vinegar to fruit in my ratio. (It should be even.)