Once a popular folk custom, wassailing almost disappeared from public knowledge before being revived in the 20th century – and now it's rising in popularity.
What happens at a wassail?
Wassailing ceremonies are subject to lots of regional variations – but there are a few hallmarks to look out for:
- A wassailing ceremony usually starts with all the revellers gathering for a procession down to the orchard – possibly led by a wassail King or Queen.
- Once gathered round the oldest tree, pieces of toast are places in its branches to entice robins: believed to the guardians of the orchard.
- Cider is poured around the roots of the tree, while pots and pans are clattered to ward off any evil spirits and wake the trees from their winter slumber.
- The crowd will also serenade the tree with chants and traditional songs often followed by Morris dancing.
- No wassail would be complete without tasting the wassail drink, which is usually a local ale or cider blended with honey and spices
A celebration of nature at our places
Wassailing, like many other folk traditions, is a way for people to mark the turning of the seasons says Dave Bouch, Head Gardener at Cotehele. ‘Wassailing helps people to consider the seasons as we think about the changes the trees will undergo throughout the year, from leafing, blossoming, fruiting and harvest despite being in the depths of winter.'
" Wassailing is a very popular local event at Cotehele with large numbers coming for the procession every year, many in fancy dress and all ready to sing and dance and make some noise."
Dave continues: 'Wassailing is a very popular local event at Cotehele with large numbers coming for the procession every year, many in fancy dress and all ready to sing and dance and make some noise. This is one of our big calendar celebrations – for some of our regulars this is bigger than Christmas.'
We currently look after nearly 200 orchards, mainly planted with traditional apple varieties, but also plum, pear and damson. We’ve previously announced a plan to create 68 new orchards across England and Wales by 2025. This is all to encourage wildlife and stop the decline of these wildlife havens.