The Apple Wassail is a traditional form of wassailing practiced in the cider orchards of southern England during the winter. There are many well recorded instances of the Apple Wassail in the early modern period. The first recorded mention was at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time groups of young men would go between orchards performing the rite for a reward. The practice was sometimes referred to as "howling". On Twelfth Night, men would go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees. Slices of bread or toast were laid at the roots and sometimes tied to branches. Cider was also poured over the tree roots. The ceremony is said to "bless" the trees to produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. Among the most famous wassail ceremonies are those in Whimple, Devon and Carhampton, Somerset, both on 17 January.
A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the Apple Tree Man, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. In the tale a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man who reveals to him the location of buried gold.
Traditional Apple Wassail rhymes
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza!— South Hams of Devon, 1871
Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stors
That the bags and chambers and house run o'er.— Cornworthy, Devon, 1805
Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now.— 19th century Sussex, Surrey
Bear good fruit,
Or down with your top
And up with your root.— 19th century S. Hams.
Bud well, bear well
God send you fare well;
Every sprig and every spray
A bushel of apples next New Year Day.— 19th century Worcestershire
Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.— Somerset, 1871
- Conrad Bladey Hutman Productions. "Traditions, songs and Rhymes of Apple Wasail". Archived from the original on 25 October 2009.
- The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
- Christmas Carols New and Old by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1871)
- Apple Wassail Songs