If you love drinking cider, you’ll want to get involved with this west country tradition. Wassailing is an ancient cider festival that takes place in apple growing regions, like Devon, that aim to ensure a good apple harvest by waking up the apple trees.
The custom is thought to date back to Anglo-Saxon times, where a wassail King and Queen would lead an assembled group of famers, farm workers and villagers around the area’s orchards to bless fruit trees. The idea is to toast to the health of the trees in the hope that they would produce a bountiful harvest in the autumn. Once the group arrived at each orchard, the group would gather around the biggest tree and would place a piece of toast soaked in a cider like drink on the trees branches while everyone sings. Once this is completed the group move on banging pots and pans and firing shot guns to wake up any tree spirits and to frighten off any demons that might be lurking in the orchard intent on destroying the harvest.
In Devon and other cider producing counties, this ancient tradition is still celebrated every year. The Wassail festival takes place on the Twelfth Night, at the beginning of January (usually the fifth or sixth), so if you find yourself in Devon around that time of year, be on the look out for Waissailing festivals, particularly if you’re a cider drinker! Not only will you get a chance to ensure a good harvest, but by following the wassailers, you’ll get a chance to drink hot mulled cider, which is passed around to each of the revellers. If you’re heading to Devon a little later in the month, don’t fret, some towns and villages celebrate the Wassail on Old Twelvey Night, which is the 17th January and would have been the 12th night before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, so you have two opportunities to join in!
Want to experience a Wassail for yourself? Take a look at our what’s on pages to find a wassailing ceremony near you!