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Wassailing in deepest Somerset!


I know that this is not strictly about gardening, but in spirit it is – because the ancient custom of Wassailing is all about encouraging apple trees to be fruitful in the coming year! In Somerset, the tradition dates back centuries – with of course modifications along the years. Let me tell you about our local Wassail, which took place in a local orchard this afternoon.

Well, you have to burn the apple tree prunings, don’t you – to have a cheerful bonfire! And of course, the local Morris men turned out and played and danced to everyone’s delight.

The first thing that happens is the shooting of one of the trees to drive out the past year. (I have a suspicion that this may be a modern bit!) Everyone present also has to make a noise, by banging drums, old pots and pans, rattles, anything!

Then to help to welcome in the New Year, a local boy is crowned ‘Holly Boy’ and a girl ‘Apple Queen’. They hold a bowl of local cider and a box of small pieces ot toast. A ceremonial apple cake (made with local apples) is ‘speared’ onto a wooden spiked platter. The Wassail rhyme is chanted three times out to the countryside – a message to all the apple trees!

Then everyone joins hands and ‘dances’ all round the orchard ending up in a spiral. The spiral unfolds and everyone takes a piece of toast, and dips it in the cider.

There’s a wishing banner hung from one of the apple trees and the dancing line goes under it, wishing for health and happiness in 2008.

The finale is to take your small piece of toast to an apple tree and to place it amongst the branches, to feed the tree.

It’s fun and traditional, and I find it interesting that the rhymes from different villages are so similar. Here’s the end of the rhyme:

‘Old apple tree, we wassail thee and hope that thou will bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel fulls
And a little heap under the stair
Hip, hip huzzah!’

If you do decide to have your own Wassail and feed your apple trees with cidery toast for a change from their normal diet, may I suggest that shooting them may be frowned on by your neighbours…or other uniformed persons.

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I saw the photos and was waiting for the blog :o)

I have never heard of wassailing and it looks very strange! Is it particular to Somerset? I know there's a lot of cider brewed down there - in fact that was another one of the stands at the taste of autumn where I spent a few pounds.

5 Jan, 2008


No, I think that other counties also celebrate on 12th Night (Old Christmas Eve - 5th Jan) or on the old calendar date of 17th Jan. The word 'wassail' is anglo-saxon in its root and means 'Be healthy'. It is certainly widely celebrated still iin Somerset. There's a village near Minehead (Carhampton) where it is a big event on 17th Jan. because the village holds the record of the longest unbroken annual ceremonies in England, so people come long distances to join in. Ours is very local, the village tries to move round to a different orchard each year, and usually the Vicar comes to bless the orchard and the people too! Googling gives a good set of info if you want to know more.

5 Jan, 2008


I'm pretty certain Hereford wassail as well. I think I'll start a new version here in Bracknell - the tree can have the toast and I'll have the cider :-)

5 Jan, 2008


Thank you for the blog , it was great to read and see the pics , I really enjoyed it .

6 Jan, 2008


So interesting to see how you spent your afternoon and learn of your local traditions!

6 Jan, 2008


What a great source of info this blog is, Spritz, because I knew that wassail had something to with apples and cider, but I always thought that wassail was solely a type of cider drink. Many thanks for the enlightenment!

6 Jan, 2008

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