A Wassail is old English folk custom to wake up the fruit trees in winter and encourage a good year and great harvest, in particular the apple trees and the cider harvest.
The word derives from the Anglo Saxon greeting “Waes hael” meaning “Good Health”, to which the correct response is “Drink Hael” (drink and be healthy!), for as with most good British traditions wassailling does involve an element of boozing! Luckily Circle Cider were on hand with a selection of their Craft cider and some delicious Mulled Cider.
At the ceremony the Wassail King and Queen, followed by community drumming group (Bang to Rites) lead the crowd around the outside of garden “beating the bounds” of the area that we were celebrating and driving away any bad spirits. We then stopped in front of the oldest apple tree in the garden, which had been decorated for the occasion, sang folk songs and made as much noise as possible to rouse the spirit of the tree, old man apple. Offerings were then given to the tree, bread hung on the branches and cider poured on the roots. And then we sang another song and drank some more cider! Everyone was definitely in good spirits by the end.
After the Wassail we Yarn Bombed the rest of the garden, decorating the trees with our knitted and crocheted creations. There was also a pom pom making table where young and old could learn to make pom poms to be hung on the trees.
Wassails have risen in popularity recently, they are now held all over the South West of England throughout January (traditionally in the first week). This resurgence is partly due to the increased popularity of cider, but also prompted by a growing interest in how our food is produced and a desire to get back in touch with local customs and traditions. This was only the second Wassail to be held at the Swindon Secret Garden, but it is definitely set to become an annual event. It was a great community celebration, bringing lots of people together and filling the garden with life and colour in the depth of winter.