Wassail – from Old Norse meaning ‘be you healthy’ – is a hot mulled cider drunk on Twelfth Night to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. The traditional wassailing ceremony involves singing and drinking to the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. The aim is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.
You’re literally singing to the trees!
Another custom is the ‘Visit Wassail’, where small groups of “Wassailers” go door to door carrying a cup full of specially concocted drink which they offer in a “Wassail Bowl” to local residents. The oldest recorded Visit Wassail of any kind takes place tonight in Bodmin, where splendidly dressed Wassailers carry the Bodmin Wassail cup through the streets.
Malpas, Penzance, Camborne and Redruth also have strong Wassailing traditions – Camborne has two Wassailing teams, one called the “Turkey Claw Choir” led by a staff with a turkeys claw attached to the tip. Malpas and Redruth have lovely Wassail tunes, both of which were recorded by folk song collectors in detail, with lyrics moulded by the communities that played host to these traditions, reflecting different establishments and attitudes.
Fowey Valley Cider will be Wassailing in their orchards near Golant.
Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We’ve come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs.