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Making merry at orchard wassail
12:00pm Sunday 3rd February 2013 in News
FREEZING temperatures and the threat of snow failed to dampen the spirits of cider lovers who gathered for the annual wassailing at Stewley Orchard near Ashill.
Wassailing, with its roots in ancient Pagan tradition, is thriving again throughout the country and particularly in Somerset, the home of cider.
January 17, the original Twelfth Night of the Julian calendar, saw Shepton Mallet Cider Company host the wassail ceremony at Stewley Orchard.
The word wassail comes from the Old English greeting ‘waes hael’ – ‘be healthy’ or ‘your good health’ – which pre-dates the Norman Conquest in 1066.
The wassail ceremony may vary from region to region but a common theme is to awaken the apple trees from their winter slumber, protect them from evil spirits and ensure a plentiful crop.
Taunton Deane Morris Men led the party with dancing and music and an introduction to wassailing.
This year’s Wassail Queen, Lucy Carter, who works for Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, was crowned with a wreath of berries before guests marched into the orchard for the wassail ceremony.
The Queen dipped toasted bread into mulled cider and placed it into the branches of a chosen apple tree as an offering to the tree spirits. Cider was then poured from a cider mug onto the roots of the tree to call for a good harvest.
The wassailers then made as much noise as possible to awaken the trees and scare away evil spirits, singing, banging sticks together and playing instruments – and a volley of gunfire was sent into the branches of the trees for good measure.
The singing of the Wassailing Carol completed the ceremony before the merry-making with a winter hog roast and cider.