Wassailing the Apple Tree. Carhampton, Somerset.
Wassailing the Apple Tree. Carhampton Somerset. England . 1972
The original use of the word 'wassail' was as a greeting when drinking the health of a person, and derives from the Anglo-Saxon wes hal, or 'Be in good health'. Later it came to describe a custom observed on New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night of drinking healths from a wassail-bowl. Connected with this appears to have been the practice of wassailing cattle or fruit-trees to encourage
them to thrive, a custom performed either right at the end of an old year or at the beginning of a new. The people of Carhampton carry it out on the date of the old
Twelfth Night (17 January) in an apple orchard behind the Butchers' Arms Inn. The wassailers gather round one of the largest apple trees to address it, sing the wassailing song, and fire guns into the tree to frighten off the evil spirits. After warm cider with toast in it has been passed around, the health of the tree is drunk, and toast put in the branches, supposedly for the birds who, it is hoped, will keep a watchful and benevolent eye on the tree for the following year.
In 1972 the wassailing song went:
Old apple tree we wassail thee and hoping thou wilt bear,
For the Lord doth know where we shall be till apples come another year.
To bear well and to bloom well so merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat and shout to the old apple tree.
Old apple tree we wassail thee and hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls capfuls three bushel barfuls,
And a little heap under the stairs.
Hip! Hip! Hooray!