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Apple Tree before Wassail

Since 2009, Wight Druids have gathered every year in early January to Wassail a venerable apple tree. Above is a photo of the tree in 2005.

The origins of Wassail go far back into antiquity and its likely it originated as a drinking salute “Waes Hael” meaning literally “Good Health”. Certainly "Wassail" appears in English literature as a salute as early as the eighth-century poem "Beowulf", in references such as "warriors' wassail and words of power" and:

The rider sleepeth,
the hero, far-hidden; no harp resounds,
in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's “History of the Kings of Britain” (written circa 1136), Rowena, daughter of Hengist, a Saxon mercenary, presents the future King Vortigern with a bowl of mulled wine and the cheer "Waes Hael!", meaning good health.

In parts of Medieval Britain, a different sort of wassailing emerged with farmers wassailing their crops and animals to encourage fertility. An observer recorded, "They go into the Ox-house to the oxen with the Wassell-bowle and drink to their health." The practice continued into the eighteenth century when farmers toasted the good health of apple trees to promote an abundant crop the next year.

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!

It was believed, especially in the West Country, that the spirits of the trees were incarnated in robins and other small birds. Young lads representing these birds climbed the apple trees and cried 'Tit-tit, I want more to eat.' A piece of cake, cheese or bread was then dipped in cider and placed in the forks of the tree branches 'for the robins' and to ward off evil spirits. In other locales, villagers splashed the trees with cider while firing guns or beating pots and pans to drive the evil spirits away.

Let every man take off his hat
And shout out to th'old apple tree
Old apple tree we wassail thee
And hoping thou will bear.

Central to Wassail is a hot, mulled punch usually made with cider, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and topped with slices of orange, apple and toast.

Mulled Cider

Wassail, wassail all round the town;
The zider-cup's white and the zider's brown;
Our zider is made vrom good apple trees,
And now my vine vellows we'll drink if you please.

Does Wassailing work?!

Which brings me to the question of whether Wassailing works? The apple tree Wight Druids Wassail is thought to be one of the last surviving trees from a large orchard that was cleared for house building in the 1960’s. Uncared for, its apple crop dwindled to virtually nothing. Then Wight Druids arrived! The results after just three years are visible to all.

Wassailed Apple Tree photographed in 2011.

Apple Tree Blossom after Wassail

Apple Tree after Wassail

Apple Tree after Wassail





Last Updated on Thursday, 26 January 2012 12:49  



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