The third Monday of January is often said to be one of the most depressing times of the year. The festive season is well and truly over, and many people have settled back into the work routine. The days are still short, and the weather is cold.
But if you know where to look and who to ask, there are traditional bright spots and events to enjoy in January. It’s the traditional month of the wassail – the ancient custom of visiting orchards to ‘wake’ the trees in order to promote a good harvest later in the year. And a good harvest later in the year means better cider and perry to drink in the future. The traditional orchard wassails are held in the apple producing counties – including Devon of course.
The wassailing tradition is a long one but is growing in popularity and spreading into other parts of the UK. The word ‘wassail’ derives from the Anglo Saxon for ‘good health’ and is pronounced with the emphasis on ‘sail’.
What happens at a wassail?
The traditions of wassailing do vary but most will feature a procession with music and singing, led by a Wassail King and Queen. Toast, soaked in a mulled drink made from spices and ale or cider will be placed in the trees’ branches and a traditional poem will be recited by the crowd. The event is a lively and enjoyable celebration, with many people dressed up in costumes to participate.
Where can I wassail?
In 2022 the people at Tradfolk.co – a fantastic resource on the wild and wonderful world of folk culture in the UK and beyond – launched a listing of UK wassails. The response to this resource was overwhelming and the initiative hit the mainstream press. This resulted in many local wassails contacting the website to be added to the listings and the website now has an incredible list of regional celebrations.
If you are interested in the musical traditions associated with wassailing, you can listen to this podcast episode which features wassailing songs. It’s available on most platforms, including Apple of course!
Beat the blues in Devon this year
You can check for available dates here or speak to me (Ian) on 01409 221501.
[Photo courtesy of Niklas Hamman via Unsplash]