Wassail (Old English wæs hæl, ‘be healthy’) refers both to the salute ‘Waes Hail’ and to the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider.
Wassailing is a traditional ceremony held in apple orchards on Twelfth Night to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. It involves ‘wakening’ the trees and making lots of noise to scare away evil spirits. According to Sue Clifford and Angela King, this traditionally involved blowing cow horns, beating trays and buckets and even firing shotguns into the upper branches – to make as much noise as possible. (see Apple Games and Customs by Sue Clifford and Angela King, of Common Ground). Slices of bread or toast are sometimes tied to branches to encourage robins to ‘guard’ the spirit of the trees, and mulled wassail poured over the tree roots, in order to ‘bless’ the trees.
We are holding a wassail on Holcombe Lane, Bathampton on January 10th – more details here.