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What Is Apple Wassailing

What Is Apple Wassailing?

First officially recorded in Kent in 1585, apple wassailing is a winter tradition going back over 400 years. But what, exactly, is wassailing and why is it still popular today?

What is Wassail?

Before we discover more about this quirky tradition, let’s take a look at what “wassail” actually means, as it’s not a word we use much!

The word “wassail” can be traced back to an Anglo-Saxon greeting which means, “be in good health”. What started as simply a greeting later turned into a toast, but the sentiment stayed the same nonetheless.

Wassail is also the name of a hot cider mulled with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a drink designed for sharing, made in a large “wassailing bowl”, featuring multiple handles so that many hands could hold it. People would also eat cider-soaked toast (known as ‘sops’) straight from the wassailing bowl.

About Apple Wassailing

Now we know that wassail is all about cider and good health, this leads us on nicely to the tradition of apple wassailing! On Twelfth Night (5th or 6th January), people would visit cider orchards across the south of England and perform a ceremony to “bless” the trees. This practice was carried out in order to encourage a good crop of apples in the coming year.

Here’s what you might expect to see at a typical wassailing ceremony

  • A wassail queen (or king) is appointed to lead the proceedings
  • Cider soaked toast is laid at the roots and tied in the branches of trees in the orchard
  • More cider is poured into the roots
  • Sometimes only the oldest tree is focussed 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 participants, who have prepared for this by bringing sticks or pots and pans to bang together
  • Everyone serenades the trees with a few traditional songs

Wassailing Today

Despite being an old tradition, apple wassailing is still celebrated today by cider lovers across the country. It’s a great way to connect with England’s quirky history and, better still, it’s all about cider! After the delights of Christmas and New Year, we often find ourselves at a loose end in January. What better way to spend a dreary night than with a sing-song and a warming cup of mulled cider (or two) at a wassailing party?

Just get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about wassailing and how you can get involved. Some events are suitable for children and dogs, so the whole family can join in the fun. If you’re going to an apple wassailing party this year, we’d love to hear all about it!

Find a Wassail event near you

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