On a cold January night, groups of people, often with faces painted and wearing feathers, make a procession to fruit frees to have a riotous party and please the tree spirits in the hope of a good harvest. A beer or cider cocktail is served up in a “wassail cup” and shared by everyone.
The custom of wassailing dates back to pagan times. But it’s become popular again recently maybe because cider is in-vogue again, along with community orchards and allotments.
Although all wassail’s are different, they tend to follow a loose format. A wassail queen (or king) leads the group to the oldest tree in the orchard. When she gets there, she dips a piece of toast in some mulled cider which is placed in the tree to attract favourable spirits. More mulled cider is then poured round the base of the tree, and evil spirits are scared away with loud noises – sticks banged together, maybe even gunshots. Then the tree is serenaded by the crowd.
Our customer service aces Steve has been hosting his own wassail in his garden in Somerset for the past four years:
“We are very lucky to have an orchard in our garden which my Dad and Mum re-planted in the early 90’s. I have always enjoyed a bit of a knees up so we decided to revive Wassailing in our village.
It’s now our fourth year and the money we raise goes to our local school. Parents, children and villagers all meet at our local pub armed with pots and pans to make some noise. We then have a torch light procession down to the orchard, Wassailing songs are sung and we enjoy drinking my own Mulled cider. The kids bash their pots and pans to scare the evil spirits away. We then put toast dunked in mulled cider in the tree branches and pour cider over the roots. It’s a wonderful way to brighten up a January evening.”
Missed out this year? Don’t fear, the National Trust have some dates for wassailing in February if you fancy dipping your toe (or toast!) ready for next year.