Waking the Trees

Saturday, January 20, 2018 | Events, Seasonal

Horfield Wassail - gathering around the tree
Happy New year to you all! Finally, the torpor of the festive season gives way to reveal the grey, cold, dark reality that is January. At first it feels a welcome release from all the frantic preparation and indulgences of the previous weeks. But as the dust settles and life returns to normality the long hard slog through the rest of the winter lies ahead.

Our spirits need lifting!

And what better way to lift tired spirits than a spot of communal celebration. Here in the South West, as mid-January approaches, we enter the Wassail season. Waes Hael means “be well” or “be in good health” and comes from Anglo-Saxon times. Now we need to gather and wake the orchards, and in particular, the apple trees.

Wassail - around the tree tying ribbons
This year more people than ever turn up to celebrate, too many to fit around the one tree. We gather and toast the trees and sing ancient songs for a bountiful harvest. We scare off evil spirits lurking in the branches by making an unholy racket. We wish each other good health. Then there is a mad scramble to tie ribbons, clouties, on the tree to carry our wishes onwards into the rest of the year.

Here’s the Traditional Apple Wassail rhyme we use which originates from Devon, 1871.

“Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow
Hats full! caps full!
Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
And my pockets full, too, huzza!”

And then it’s over for another year. Our spirits lifted we take some apple cake home with us to eat in front of the fire. Where ever you are, what ever the weather, I wish you ‘Waes Hael !’