Please note, the UK is currently under a national lockdown, please do not travel. These suggestions are for future reference only.
One of Devon’s greatest exports is cider and if it is a favourite drink of yours, then you’ll want to know all about Wassailing, the tradition to make sure that region’s apples and therefore, the cider is the best it can be If you’ve not heard of Wassailing before, we're here to explain all - basically, it is an ancient festival that takes place in all cider producing areas of the UK and is something that happens every year across the south west, with many places in Devon usually going all out for the event. Sadly because of the national lockdown in place until February half term at the earliest, we won't be able to take part in this year's festivities, instead, here's a little look into what it's all about.
But what exactly is it?
Wassailing is thought to date back to the Anglo-Saxon times and would entail a Wassail King and Queen (usually nominated people in the community) who would lead an assembled group of farmers, farm workers and villagers around the orchards in the area to bless the fruit trees. The idea is that by doing this, the trees would produce a bountiful harvest come autumn and therefore give the region lots of tasty cider!
Once the troop get to an orchard, they would gather around the biggest tree and place a piece of cider soaked toast on the branches while everyone sings songs toasting to the tree’s health. This is followed by firing gun shots and generally making a lot of noise to scare off any evil spirits that might be lurking in the orchard intent on ruining the harvest. So, if you’re not from the West Country yourself, it is quite a sight to behold, especially if you’re visiting an area of Devon that goes all out and actually crowns two members of the community to lead the procession. Just make sure you’re well out of range when the gun gets brought out!
So, when can you catch this ancient event?
Traditionally, Wassailing takes place on Twelfth Night, which usually falls on the 5th or 6th January, though you will find that many places will hold their Wassail events at various points throughout January, some places even stick rigidly with tradition by choosing a date nearer to 17th January, which would have been Twelfth Night before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, so you’ll find plenty of opportunities to join in throughout the month. Sadly, there won't be any community Wassails in 2021, but if you like the sound of it, make sure to look out for events in January 2022, there might even be a cup of hot cider or two in it for you!