Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Have you heard of wassailing? It's the tradition of drinking and singing to the health of your fruit trees and is a very local custom where we live. This is an extract taken from the book 'England in Particular' by Sue Clifford and Angela King, Common Ground RRP. £30.

"The word 'Wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes-haeil - to be healthy, so wassailing apple trees was a way of encouraging a good crop in the following season. It usually took place after dark on Old Twelfth Night, 17 January, but could also occur on other days around Christmas and the New Year.

Often farm workers and villagers carrying lanterns, a pail and pitcher full of cider, shotguns and horns, walk to their local orchard, which is sometimes lit by bonfires, and gather around the largest or most prolific tree. This tree is known as the Apple Tree man and is feted as the guardian of the orchard. Cider or beer is poured on its roots and pieces of soaked toast or cake put in branches for the robins - guardians of the spirits of the trees. Often the tips of the lowest branches are drawn down and dipped into the pail of cider.

The wassailers fill their earthenware cups with cider and toss it into the branches. They then refill their cups and drink and sing to the tree. To drive away evil spirits and wake up the sleeping trees, cow horns are blown, trays and buckets beaten and shotguns fired into the upper branches - as much noise as possible is made.

The wassail bowl went round from house to house in the evenings during the Twelve Days of Christmas and often in the last days of Advent. A mixture of hot ale, sugar and roasted apples, sometimes with eggs and thick cream floating on it, was known as Lamb's Wool in Gloucestershire, and was also drunk on St Catherine's Day, 25th November. The bowl was made from turned ash or maple, often elaborately carved and kept for the purpose."

It's good fun and I would recommend that you take part if you ever get the chance! 


  1. In some places wassailing usually took place around plough monday so the wassail I went to this year was earlier in january. I love the old traditions and really enjoy taking part. Wassailing is having a revival at the moment, which is pleasing!

    Some photos from my wassail here


  2. Thanks so much for the wassail information. I firmly intend to go wassailing - perhaps next year and I love the history behind the tradition.

    I was wondering whether you might link to link-up with our Making winter project as this post is perfect for it:


  3. love it! em you have a lovely pagan heart :)


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