Twelfth Night Wassail
Saffron, Sage, Cloves, and Ginger;
Thistletop, Sweetmeats, Lentilpod,
and whitetopp'd fennel cakes;
within the kitchen Goldberry stands
and confects the wheaten, oaten, chickpea mix
with star of anise on sesame cakes.
Lavender and nectar draught
will make us merry in Winter:
a wassail of raisins and cinnamon and cloves-
the precious gifts from the Fragrant Isles;
candied violets in garlands strung!
Make festive this holy Twelfth Night,
mindful as we measure, so measured will it be.
Do not miser the honey-bread nor sesame biscuits!
Wanton the saffron-mingled cakes and walnuts;
sorb-apples wreathed in ivy crown:
her words the foam of nutmeg's dew!
We approach Twelfth Night, the Twelfth Night of the Christmas season as observed by Orthodox, Coptic, and Armenian churches. This leads from Christmas to the Epiphany or Theophany, also called Little Christmas ( by my wife, at least).
Since the old Julian calendar was used by all Christendom until replaced in the West by the Gregorian, originally all the Christmas feasts were on the same days, and Twelfth Night under the old calendar would be around now. Wassail was a festive part of Twelfth Night:
The date of 17 January marks Old Twelfth Night, which is traditionally the date on which wassailing takes place.
Wassailing is an ancient tradition which sees people singing to trees in apple orchards in cider-producing regions of England to promote a good harvest for the coming
Twelfth Night for the Eastern Orthodox churches in the evening of January 18, and not January 17th as noted above; the quote is from the BBC and applies to Britain where, since the feast is no longer celebrated now due to the calendar change, a fixed date is used for the Wassail festivals.
The wassail sings to the apple trees to make them aware of the promised spring. Apples are ancient, and cider was probably a spirituous drink longer before any whiskeys or aqua vitae; which is why Johnny Appleseed was such a welcome fellow on the American frontier: the promise of harvest and the promise of fermented cider to warm the heart.