Airdate: Dec 28, 2000
Scientist: Tom Dempsey
An ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition called "Wassail" lives on in Pennsylvania, where a group of friends celebrate this week by drinking to the health of apple trees.
WassailMusic; Ambience: Wassail night singing. Bell ringing, outdoor ambience, people laughing and singing, hurrahs as an envelope catches on fire, bellsJM: In centuries past, Anglo-Saxons would greet each other with the words "Was Haile", or "Be of good health". In winter, they would toast each other with a "Wassail" drink of hot, spiced ale, and they'd drink to the health of apple trees to ensure the tree's growth in the coming year. Tonight, a group of friends in Pennsylvania mark their version of Wassail, an annual celebration of rituals both old and new. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Thomas Dempsey has hosted this event at his home in Dunmore, Pennsylvania for more than thirty years. It always takes place on December 28th, a week after the winter solstice, when the days are just beginning to get a little longer.TD: "There seems to be a need that human beings have. We need to acknowledge our source. We need to acknowledge the return of the sun. We need to return some of the gifts we were given. And all of this can be combined in Wassail night."JM: After drinking a hot steaming goblet of ale laced with sherry and lemons, brown sugar and ginger, the friends go out into the yard, where they'll sing for each apple tree, and drink to its health. They tie bits of wool, dipped in Wassail, to the branches and place star-shaped pieces of toast in the trees for the wrens, in a wish for an early spring. JM: Back inside the house, the friends write on slips of paper what they want to leave behind in the old year, and also what they hope for in the new. The notes are sealed in envelopes, along with a dash of sugar and salt, and are thrown, one by one, into the fire.JM: To hear about our new CD, please visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.