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Somerset Wassail

Helen Mark visits the apple orchards of Somerset to find out about the ancient tradition of wassailing. It's a custom which has undergone a remarkable revival in the last 30 years.

In the depths of the winter, on the old 12th Night, an ancient custom is held in the cider apple orchards of Somerset. Wassailing involves pouring cider round the roots of the wassail tree, putting cider-soaked toast in its branches, singing to it, and sometimes firing guns through its branches. It's all about scaring away evil spirits, and encouraging the trees to produce a good crop in the year to come. Wassailing is a tradition with many elements: blessing the crops goes back to at least Tudor times, while the words "waes hael", meaning "be you healthy", are found in toasts as far back as the 12th century. By 1990 wassailing in apple orchards had almost died out in Somerset, but over the last thirty years the tradition has undergone a remarkable revival. As Helen Mark finds out, it's now very much alive and well - and if nothing else, provides a good excuse for a party to brighten up the dark winter nights!

Producer: Emma Campbell

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25 minutes

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Last Saturday 06:07