Tag Archives: wassailing

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Wassailing Through History: A Gift to Bring Good Harvests

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Apples growing on a tree in the orchard at Chiltern Open Air Museum. Wassailing encourages good apple harvests.

The Romans brought apples to the UK and they have been growing here ever since. You can see their importance in ancient traditions, like wassailing.

What is wassailing?

Wassailing is an Anglo-Saxon tradition. On January 5th, the Twelfth Night, people would gather to take part. The landowner greeted the guests with the toast waes hael, meaning be well. He then passed around the wassail drink for everyone to have some.

Should you wassail on 5th January or 17th January?

If you want to be really traditional, wassailing should take place on ‘Old Twelvey’, also known as the 17th January. This is because the date of Twelfth Night changed with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752. We still use the Gregorian calendar now!

What is the wassail drink made of?

The wassail drink was made of warmed ale, wine or cider. People mixed in spices and honey. Sometimes it even included an egg!

How did people wassail?

The group gathered round the biggest tree in the orchard. They hung a piece of wassail soaked toast in the branches. This was a gift to the tree spirits to make sure there was a good harvest that year.

The group would then move onto the next orchard. The journey was a loud one! They would shout, sing and make as much noise as possible to waken all the tree spirits. The noise was also to scare away any demons. People thought they stopped the apples from growing.

Cider and the Victorians

The tradition of wassailing carried on through to the Victorians. Cider and cider making was an important part of Victorian life. Farm owners often paid their workers with cider instead of money! In fact, farms without cider often found it difficult to attract workers.

Wassailing today

Many groups across Britain have revived the tradition of wassailing. At the museum we will be giving our own gift to the trees in our orchards, using our homegrown apple juice instead of cider!

We’ll see the results of the wassail at our harvest festival in September, when we’ll be doing traditional apple pressing with the fruits of our labours.


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