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Cider drinkers wish apple trees well for the year
10:04am Thursday 17th January 2013 in Somerset
THE traditional and colourful custom of wassailing takes place again tonight at Stewley Orchard near Ilminster as cider lovers gather to wish the apple trees a successful harvest.
The colourful custom of wassailing, with its roots in an ancient Pagan tradition, is thriving throughout the country, particularly in Somerset, the home of cider.
January 17 is the original Twelfth Night of the Julian calendar and the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill will host its annual wassail for invited guests at its own award-winning Stewley Orchard.
How far the tradition dates back is unknown but the word wassail comes from the Old English greeting ‘waes hael’ – ‘be healthy’ or ‘your good health’ – which predates the Norman Conquest in 1066.
The wassail ceremony may vary from region to region but a common theme pervades them all – to awaken the apple trees from their winter slumber, protect them from evil spirits and ensure a plentiful crop.
The evening, which includes a display of traditional Morris dancing, begins with the crowning of the Wassail Queen, an employee of the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, with a wreath of berries.
A Master of Ceremonies leads the procession into the heart of the orchard where the Wassail Queen dips toasted bread into mulled cider and places it into the branches of the chosen tree as an offering to the tree spirits – perhaps providing the origins of the verb ‘to toast’. Cider is then poured from a cider mug|onto the roots of the tree to call for a good harvest.
The assembled crowd is then encouraged to make as much noise as possible to awaken the trees and scare away evil spirits.