From their first rose tinted blossom, announcing the arrival of spring, to the sweet & colourful harvest they reward us with in the shortening autumn days, apple trees have held a place in the heart of folklore in many cultures. Apples have, in various cultures, been known as symbols of knowledge, temptation, love & eternal life.

The ancient custom of Wassailing dates back as far back as the eighth century, most commonly practiced in the cider orchards of southern England. Rural farming communities would come together, seeking to awaken nature from its winter slumber, and would bless their apple trees, in the hope that an abundant harvest would follow. Wassailing usually takes place in early January, marking a return of light and life, after the long, dark days of winter. The ceremony traditionally begins just before dark, when the wassailing drink is prepared – usually a warming, mulled cider. Those taking part will gather around the oldest & most venerated apple tree in the orchard, some carrying lanterns, others – drums, whistles, pans with a spoon… anything to create some noise.

The wassailing ceremony would begin by ‘serenading’ the tree with a wassail song. The leader of the ceremony would give praise and thanks for the fruitfulness of the previous harvest and would bless the tree with good wishes for the seasons ahead. Those partaking of the wassail drink may then pour a little onto the roots of the tree and pieces of toast may be dipped in the wassail and hung upon the branches of the tree, in an offering of gratitude and thanks. The drumming, singing and noise making is believed to awaken the spirit of the apple trees from its winter slumber. The term ‘Wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Waes hael’ meaning ‘good health’.

This lively and joyful ceremony reminds us to be grateful of the bounty which nature provides for us each year and affords us an opportunity to give thanks, whilst making merry with our neighbours and friends. We invite you to join us at our St Ives Community Orchard every year to celebrate this event.

See our first wassail in 2017

Wassail song  – listen to tune on youtube

Old apple tree we wassail thee
And hoping thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
‘Til apples come another year

For to bear well and to bloom well
So merry let us be
Let everyone take off their hats
And cry out to the old apple tree
Old apple tree we wassail thee
And hoping thou will bear
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three bushel bag fulls
in a little heap under the stairs
Huzza! Huzza!
(NB: ‘Huzza’ – a fabulous old English word to express approval or delight – like Hooray.)

Here’s a quote from the Illustrated London News of January 11, 1851:
On Twelfth Eve, in Devonshire, it is customary for the farmer to leave his warm fireside, accompanied by a band of rustics, with guns, blunderbusses, etc., presenting an appearance which at other times would be somewhat alarming. Thus armed, the band proceed to an adjoining orchard, where is selected one of the most fruitful and aged of the apple trees, grouping round which they stand and offer up their invocations in the following doggerel rhyme:
“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,/ Bushels,/ bushels, sacks full,/ And my pockets full, too!/ Huzza! huzza!”
The cider-jug is then passed around, and with many a hearty shout, the party fire off their guns, charged with powder only, amidst the branches.