The Anglo-Saxon tradition of Waes Hael (be well – in good health) has been celebrated throughout Britain for many centuries. Depending on the area of Britain you reside, you may wassail nearer to Christmastime and go house to house singing merry songs (a bit like carol singing but a bit more folky). In the South West of England, we have a tradition in mid-Jan – early-Feb to wassail for the apple trees to ensure a good harvest later in the year.
This tradition is prevalent in cider-making regions and seems to be growing in popularity. Last year Ant and I went to the Wassail at the Community Farm in Chew Magna. It was lots of fun and if you would like to see how a Wassail works I really recommend it. The 2019 Wassail there is on 9th Feb. There are others coming up too including one in Sussex and one on Glastonbury Tor. If you can’t make it to one you can always hold your own by following these simple steps:
You will need:
An apple tree or an orchard
A piece of toast
Some apple juice or cider
Some cake with a 2 dried beans baked in (try my Toffee Apple traybake!)
Someone brave to lead the singing
Pots and pans and kitchen utensils
- Gather together friends and willing participants. If the leader says “waes hael” everyone else replies “drink hael” and you raise a glass or mug!
- Learn or teach a couple of wassailing songs.
3. Make a crown if you wish (you might want to make 2 for the King and Queen but everyone can have one if they like!)
4. Eat the cake and the 2 people who eat the slices with the dried beans are crowned King and Queen of the Wassail
5. Everyone else grabs a pot/pan and a utensil and follows the King and Queen making lots of noise – this is to ward of evil spirits around the trees
6. Gather around the oldest apple tree and sing another wassail song
7. The King and Queen skip around the tree and then pour some cider at the base and soak the toast with the rest.
8. They then put the toast in the tree
9. Everyone toasts the tree and makes a lot of noise again
10. Continue singing, drinking and generally being merry. And make sure you get in a lot of “waes hael!” “drink hael”s!
There may be other parts to the tradition. If you do anything differently do let me know in the comments below. I love finding out about other people’s traditions!