From the archives | Where - and how - to go wassailing (updated for 2015)

From the archives

Where - and how - to go wassailing (updated for 2015)

With the growing popularity of cider there seem to be more and more 'wassailing' events at this time of year. But what does wassailing involve?

The custom has its roots in paganism; the idea being to protect the cider apple trees from evil spirits and to ensure a plentiful crop in the coming season. The word wassail comes from the old Anglo Saxon ‘wes hal’ meaning to be whole or in good health.

This ancient tradition is still upheld throughout England and Wales, but particularly so in the west country, the home of cider. January 17th, old Twelfth Night is the traditional date for wassailing and although ceremonies and songs such as the one below vary slightly from orchard to orchard they run along similar lines.

A typical wassail celebration kicks off with apple cake* washed down with mulled cider. A wassailing queen is crowned. The best or oldest tree in the orchard is chosen as a guardian to represent the other trees, pieces of toast soaked in cider are placed in the tree and cider is poured around the base of it.

Shot guns are fired into the topmost branches and buckets are beaten, the aim being to scare away evil spirits and wake the sleeping trees. Some believe that if the trees aren’t wassailed there will be no harvest. Once the harvest has been assured the evening continues with music, fun, cider and food.

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be.
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs
Hip! Hip! Horray!

Where to celebrate wassail in 2015

Wassail events generally take place in traditional cider-growing areas of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset any time from now until early February though most celebrations will take place between January 10th and 18th. These are the ones I've been able to track down. Do let me know of any others.

10th January

Bewdley Wassail, Glos

Stroud Wassail, Glos

The Ethicurean, Wrington, near Bristol. The Ethicurean's Wassail has to be the most gastronomic wassail event out there. This year's menu includes cheddar & cider Welsh rabbit (rarebit), 12 hour pork belly, fondant potato, cavolo nero, pickled apple & mushroom, mulled crackling and Wassail toffee apple pudding (with vegetarian alternatives) Probably booked out but worth ringing 01934 863713 or email to see if there are any drop-outs

11th January

Friends of East Greenwich, Pleasance, London

10th and 11th January

Walthamstow wassail

17th Jan

Pentacle Drummers Wassail, Pevensey, East Sussex

Rotherhithe Wassail at the Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe London

Sandford Wassail, Devon

Stoke Gabriel Wassail, near Totnes, Devon

Wassail and Mari Lwyd, Chepstow - a popular annual event combining the mainly English tradition of Wassailing, the Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition, plus a unique social meeting of the English and Welsh on the Welsh/English border (The river Wye bridge) There is also Morris dancing and a Country Dance Ceilidh

24th Jan

Extra session of the Ethicurean wassail (see above)

27th Jan

King's Cross Wassail run by the Urban Orchard Project, London

You can find out about other UK cider events on The Cider Blog and events in the US and Canada on the website United States of Cider. The Bristol Cider Shop may know of others and also holds its own monthly tastings.

* If you want to hold a wassail celebration at home here's a recipe for Somerset apple cake and my favourite recipe for mulled cider.

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