Apples on tree

Jim Lloyd and Joe Grundy are reviving the country tradition of Wassail in Ambridge, to be held on 17 January – the ‘old’ Twelfth Night under the Julian calendar. The idea is to bless the apple trees and encourage a healthy crop in the autumn. 

The name comes from the Old English phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. The tradition has continued, or been revived, in many of the apple growing areas of the UK, including Gloucestershire and Herefordshire (and Borsetshire, of course).

There are lots of variations, but a typical event would take place late afternoon or early evening.

Accompanied by a folk band, a morris side and/or a lone fiddler, people assemble in the orchard. Or a Wassail King and Queen –  wearing headdresses trimmed with greenery –  could lead a procession there. People may light their way by carrying blazing torches. 

There is often a bonfire. Everyone forms a circle around the trees and sings the Wassail song, throats lubricated with the Wassail drink of mulled cider topped with slices of toast.

They toast the trees. The King (or someone) pours a ring of cider around one of the trees. Then the Queen (or someone else) is lifted up to the branches of one, where she balances a piece of the toast in the crook of a branch. An incantation is recited, such as:

“Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Sometimes shotguns are discharged into the air to scare off the evil spirits (and presumably anyone who hasn’t heard about the wassail).

The evening might progress round the bonfire with more music and comforting winter food – handwarmer pies and rich cake, for example – washed down with the rest of the mulled cider.

Keri Davies is an Archers scriptwriter and web producer (and took part in a wassail in his local orchard last year)

Explanation of the ‘old’ Twelfth Night – from Wikipedia


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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Smith

    on 15 Jan 2014 12:58

    All are welcome to join us in celebrating an ancient custom, a lively celebration of the New Year to come.
    Plum Jerkum Border Morris with our friends Hereburgh & Anstey will Wassail on Saturday 18th January and will Dance & Play around Long Itchington, Warwickshire to ensure a good crop next year & entertain the crowd

    11:00 Duck on the Pond, start dancing

    12:00 The Country Store - Wassail plum tree

    12:30 The Harvester

    13.30 Malt Kiln Cottage - Wassail plum tree

    14:15pm The Buck & Bell , dancing and music session

    As always, these times are approximate.

    See you there!

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Smith

    on 14 Jan 2014 20:48

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 2. Posted by Keri Davies

    on 9 Jan 2014 14:55

    Diolch yn fawr!

    (Mods: means 'thank you' in Welsh.)

  • Comment number 1. Posted by Paul M Seligman

    on 9 Jan 2014 08:57

    An alternative, or additional, midwinter fertility custom here in South Wales is the Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare. For details see

    For some years the two traditions, the English Wassailing and the Welsh Mari have come together at Chepstow, on the border. This year's event will be January 18th, see

    For some of my Mari pictures, see

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