Wassailing in Herefordshire

Wassailing in Herefordshire

Eat, Dance, Drink and Wassail!

Here at Eat Sleep Live Herefordshire we have a lot of fun discovering and sharing Herefordshire’s ancient traditions, many of which are still enjoyed and celebrated today.

Remember those hearty Wassailing songs from years ago? Many could be excused for thinking that Wassailing is a nautical past time enjoyed on the high seas. But it is actually a vibrant rural countryside event and for those in the know,  it’s steeped in tradition and involves, of course, a Herefordshire favourite, cider!

Wassailing is in fact an ancient custom that takes place in cider producing regions of England. Visiting orchards, reciting incantations and singing to the trees is seen by many as an important ritual that promotes a good harvest for the coming year.

Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, Wassailing has now become associated with Christmas and is celebrated on Twelfth Night, the evening of the 5th January but many prefer tradition and choose ‘Old Twelvey Night’ which is January 17th.

‘Wassail’ means good health and was originally a drink of mulled ale, served in huge silver or pewter bowls and mixed with curdled cream, apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. Small pieces of toast are often added and float on the top, its appearance leading some to call the drink ‘Lamb’s Wool’.

A wassail King and Queen traditionally lead the song, with the Queen being lifted up to the boughs of the apple tree to place the toast, soaked in wassail from the Clayen Cup, as a gift to the tree. The biggest and the best tree can also be selected and cider poured onto its roots. An incantation is then recited and those present sing, shout and bang drums, pots, pans etc. to ensure their work is done before moving off to the next orchard.

In cider-producing regions such as Herefordshire, many still come together to drink and sing, passing a bowl of drink around with the greeting ‘Wassail’, or ‘Good Health or Be Well’ and it is hoped, scare off evil spirits!

Some of this coming January’s local events are listed on our What’s on page and visitors are welcome and encouraged to join in with a tradition enjoyed by many who hope it will continue to provide a good harvest of apples and maintain Herefordshire’s reputation as a leading cider producing region.