What we do in the orchard from harvesting to activities
In the cider-producing West of England (primarily the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) wassailing also refers to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive.
Wassailing is also a traditional event in Jersey, Channel Islands where cider (cidre) made up the bulk of the economy before the 20th century.
The format is much the same as that in England but with terms and songs often in Jèrriais.
17th-century English lyric poet Robert Herrick writes in his poem "The Wassail":
Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.
An apple sapling, hung with toast, placed in a handcart and pushed around the streets during the Chepstow Mari Lwyd, 2014
The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in autumn.
The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements.
A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune played or sung from one orchard to the next.
The wassail Queen will then be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year).
Then an incantation is usually recited, such as:
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An' all under one tree.
This incantation is followed by noise-making from the assembled crowd until the gunsmen give a final volley through the branches.
The crowd then moves onto the next orchard.
As the largest cider producing region of the country, the West Country hosts historic wassails annually, such as Whimple in Devon and Carhampton in Somerset, both on 17 January, or old Twelfth Night.
Many new, commercial or "revival" wassails have also been introduced throughout the West Country, such as those in Stoke Gabriel and Sandford, Devon.
Clevedon in North Somerset holds an annual wassailing event at the Clevedon Community Orchard, combining the traditional elements of the festival with the entertainment and music of the Bristol Morris Men.
Nineteenth-century wassailers of Somerset would sing the following lyrics after drinking the cider until they were "merry and gay":
Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah,
Holler biys, holler hurrah.
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.