Wassailing of the apple trees dates back to our forefathers of Anglo-Saxon times. It was originally celebrated on 17th January, although this changed to 6th January with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.
The word “Wassail” comes from the Old English “wæs (þu) hæl“, roughly translating to “be in good health”, something we still raise a glass to in this day and age. We toast and give thanks during the darkest period of the year, where the wheel has finally turned and we welcome back the sun.
The orchard spirits are to be awoken from their winter slumber by a racket and a song. Upon being disturbed the evil spirits of the orchard shall dispel, with the [good] spirits of the trees remaining. A helping of cider is poured at the roots of the trees as an offering to the spirits of the trees, this would ensure a bountiful harvest for the coming year.
Pieces of toast are then dipped in cider and hung from the crooked branches of the largest tree in the orchard, this is to encourage the little red breasted robins to visit the orchards and provide their protection. Robins have long been seen as the guardians of apple orchards.
Oh apple tree
We wassail thee
And hoping thou will be
Hat fulls, cap fulls
Three bushel bag fulls
A little heap under the stairs