History of Apple Wassailing
The Apple Wassail is a traditional form of wassailing that was practiced in the cider orchards of southern England during the winter months. Groups of young men would go between orchards performing a rite for a reward – a practice sometimes referred to as “howling”. This consisted of everyone making as much noise as possible to scare away any evil spirits from the orchard. Drums, tambourines, pots and pans and all other manner of noisy equipment were used.
Wassailing has become popular again in recent years across the whole of the UK. Here is what to expect from a typical wassailing ceremony:
The first recorded mention of this was at Fordwich, Kent way back in 1585. On Twelfth Night, men took their wassail bowl into the orchard and went about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots, and sometimes tied to branches, and cider was poured over the tree roots to “wassail” them. Wassail means “be of good health”. The wassail ceremony is to “bless” the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season.
- A wassail king or queen is appointed to lead the ceremony
- Toast soaked in cider is laid at the roots and tied in the branches of the trees in the orchard
- Cider is poured onto the roots of the trees
- Sometimes only the oldest tree in the orchard is focused upon – this is because an old Somerset folktale talks of the spirit of the oldest tree being responsible for the fertility of the orchard
- Evil spirits are warned off with loud noises from the people taking part
- And finally, everyone serenades the trees with traditional songs
Here are a couple of traditional Apple Wassail rhymes –
Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza!
— South Hams of Devon, 1871
Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.
— Somerset, 1871
We will be having our very own Apple Wassailing event at our orchard in Ravenscraig Walled Garden on Saturday 19th January, 1.30pm – 3.30pm. Join us for some traditional stories of wassailing, learn some songs to sing to our trees and listen to poems that have been written about apple trees. There will be a lot of noise and a lot of fun! There is no need to book, we look forward to seeing you there.|