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A 'wassail' a year keep the cider flowing

A 'wassail' a year keep the cider flowing

Saturday 11 January 2020

A 'wassail' a year keep the cider flowing


Dry January is over, and if you go down to The Elms today, you're sure of a big surprise... dozens of islanders will be singing, dancing, banging pots and pans and getting merry.

It's all part of a Medieval drinking ritual aimed to encourage a good harvest of cider apples.

Every year, the National Trust for Jersey celebrates the island's rich heritage of cider production with a ‘Wassail’ at their headquarters, The Elms, in St. Mary.

The charity explained that, while the custom dates back to pagan times, the tradition of blessing the orchard at The Elms has enjoyed a minor resurgence in recent years.

Wassail - 'Ves Heil' in Old Norse, or 'was hál' in Old English - literally means "be you healthy". It is a beverage of hot mulled cider, traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. 

Pictured: Hanging cider-soaked toast from the apple trees is part of the tradition.

The practice dates back centuries in England, when, in the dead of winter, villagers would stage elaborate ceremonies which included hanging cider-soaked toast from the apple trees, encircling the oldest tree and singing, reciting incantations, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns. 

Often, a Wassail King or Queen was elected to help awaken the trees and scare away evil spirits. Then an incantation would usually be recited such as: 

"Stand Fast root, bear well top.
Pray good God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big,
Every bough, apples enow." 

As the 2019 apple harvest was fantastic, the National Trust for Jersey says it will need "assistance this year to encourage a good crop".

They are therefore inviting islanders to dress up warmly, help crown the king and queen of the Wassail, toast the orchard, raise a glass and enjoy winter. Those who decide to join in this year's ritual are asked to bring noise makers - whistles, pots and pans or anything that makes a noise - to help frighten away the evil spirits.

Pictured: The Helier Morris Men will once again join in the Wassailing efforts.

The event is free of charge and will start at 14:00 with some Morris dancing with the Helier Morris Men. The procession will then move in direction of the orchard for wassailing of threes and bees, whilst making lots of noise.

As parking is limited at the Elms, participants are encourage to share cars or park in the village before walking to the Elms.

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