What is apple wassailing all about

Last year I came across a drawing by Kate Lynch that really caught my eye, ‘Musicians at the Wassail’ when writing an article on a Sladers Yard exhibition for the Bull Hotel. It had a feel of black magic, maybe because it’s in charcoal and rather dark but I loved it for its moodiness.

I don’t mind admitting that I had never heard of Wassail so Mr Google was called upon. There was some explanation on this twelfth night of Christmas ritual, all rather fascinating for a French person. Apple wassailing sounded particularly interesting.

It seemed to be all about blessing apple trees with cider and warding off evil spirits with as much racket as possible -including guns- in the apple orchards of the South West. The most interesting site I could find was dark dorset. I particularly like his comment that ‘this custom was especially important during a time when part of a labourer’s wages was paid in apple cider‘. Well we’d all make sure we did anything possible to ensure a good crop then, wouldn’t we?

However bizarre or wonderful pagan rituals appear, there always seems to be an explanation based on Mother Nature, as is the case with Apple Wassailing. I contacted Jill Lloyd of Bridport Community Orchard who finally had the answer to my question. Why oh why so much racket? Surely you want the birds to hang around?

Oh yes, that’s why bread dipped in cider is flung in the apple trees’ branches. Oh the lucky sparrows whose orchards are being blessed. As for the noise, it’s all to do with apple loving little bugs -codling moths- who hide behind the bark in the winter, ready to leap up the trunk and into the apples later in the year.

Shoooo little nasty things, we want our apples for our cider… Bang. Bang. Bang. And (hopefully) away they go.

It is then time for a good old glass of gold nectar around the fire whilst catching up with friends on a cold winter night and watching Morris Dancers, safe in the knowledge that everything humanely possible has been done to ensure a good crop the following autumn.

As orchards have dwindled in West Dorset so has of course apple wassailing. Thankfully not all is lost. The good people at the Bridport Community Orchard have not only turned a field in the town centre into an orchard, they are also reviving this age old West Country tradition. This Sunday 15 January 2012 at 3pm, Bridport Community Orchard. Do you have a tambourine or drums I can borrow?


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