A dramatic Wassail King presided over the first Wassail at Coton Orchard while his Queen and local revellers performed a rousing Wassail poem, specially written for the occasion. With music, dancing and mulled cider, the apple trees were given the traditional toast and blessing before pots and pans were banged to scare away the forces of darkness.
Wassailing is an Anglo-Saxon tradition that used to take place on Twelfth Night, now celebrated on 5th January. But before the Gregorian Calendar threw everything into disarray, ‘Old Twelvey’ fell on the 17th.
Wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon waes hael – ‘be well’ or ‘be in good health’. And so it was that people gathered in orchards to bless the fruit trees and drink a toast to ensure a good harvest. The celebrations took various forms, but most included a wassail king and queen, much singing and revelry, and making a loud noise to waken the trees and ward off evil spirits. As revellers sang, a piece of cider-soaked toast would be placed into the branches of the oldest or largest tree as an offering.
The wassail has seen an extraordinary revival in recent years. It comes at a time when both the rich heritage and the extraordinary ecological value of traditional orchards are being recognised, and may also be something to do with a growing desire to reconnect with nature and with our agrarian roots.
With first Coton Orchard Wassail, a new village tradition has been established. And, like the 'Wassail words' of the penultimate verse, the poem has already been passed around and adopted by The Orchard Project wassail and others.