Wassailing: Blessing the Apple Trees

Wassailing this old apple tree

I’ve wanted to go wassailing for a while, and this year I finally made it. We sang to the apple trees, fed them bread and cider, chased away the evil spirits, and we are fully expecting a bumper crop of apples in the coming harvest.

Wassailing is an old custom with the aim of driving the evil spirits out of the orchard, keeping the good spirits in, and waking the apple trees from their winter slumber. There is also another kind of wassailing that was the precursor to Christmas caroling which you can read about here.

This is what we are hoping for next harvest

The first recorded mention of wassailing is from 1585 in Kent, England. It almost died out in modern times but has recently been revived and is gaining in popularity, especially in cider-producing regions like southern England. Traditionally people wassailed the trees on the eve of 12th night, which is either the 5th or 16th of January, but nowadays, wassailing might be held anytime in January.

This year, I was glad to see a wassailing event in London at a National Trust property, Morden Hall Park. When I explained to my husband that we would be singing to trees and chasing away evil spirits, he raised his eyebrows and looked a bit worried. But he’s always up for the odd things I come up with, so he agreed to go. But when Rach, a friend from work, got exciting about going with me, he politely bowed out (with a sigh of relief). So, Rach and I had a great time wassailing the apple trees.

Here are some of the key ingredients needed for a successful wassailing experience:

Making a head wreath to get into the wassailing spirit

Head Decoration:

I believe a wreath for the head is actually optional, but making it was a lot of fun and got us in the wassailing mood. When we arrived, we were given a wreath made of woven twigs. Then we chose assorted greenery to weave through the twigs to decorate it. There were also ribbons that could be added. Everyone had their own style of head wreath. Some were classic and beautiful, and others were wild and beautiful. They actually reminded me of the mythical Green Man (of whom I am very fond).

Sticks or Wands

We were also given short sticks to make our wands. We tied bells to the ends, wrapped them in crepe paper, and added other decorations as desired. Hitting the trees with sticks was a part of the ancient tradition. This was to wake up the tree and get the sap flowing. It might also drive out insects (or evil spirits). At our event, I didn’t see anyone hitting the trees with their sticks. Most of us just gave them a loving, encouraging pat on the trunk.


After decorating our head wreaths and wands, our small group headed out to the trees led by an accordion player and a violinist. As we gathered around the first tree, we were welcomed by a beating drum and the occasional reverberation of a gong. The sounds were meant to connect us to the trees and probably to send stimulating vibrations through the ground and the tree.

Chanting and Singing

As we gathered around each apple tree, we read a chant to encouraging the tree to be healthy and bring forth lots of fruit.

Old apple tree, we wassail thee
And hope that you will bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stair

Pouring cider onto the bread. I wonder if the birds get drunk…

The trees

Traditionally, wassailing is done in an orchard, and one tree – often the oldest – is selected to represent the spirit of the orchard. And it is the one that receives the blessing for the entire orchard.

However, the event we attended was at a National Trust site and apparently the orchard that had once proudly stood there had been replaced by a parking lot. But two of the old trees remained and there were several new ones that had been recently planted. Since there were only a few trees, instead of choosing one, we just wassailed them all.

Toast and cider

After chanting around each tree, we took a slice of bread, dipped it in cider, and laid it at the roots or placed it in the branches. Traditionally, we would have used toast, but, hopefully, a slice of bread accomplished the same thing. The bread is to feed the birds – especially the robins who represent the good spirits – and the cider is probably just to remind the trees of the desired goal – producing lots of apples for cider.

Making noise to drive away those evil spirits


Noise making is an important part of wassailing, as it is meant to drive away the evil spirits from the trees. At some wassailing events a gun is fired, but at ours, we just banged on pots and pans or whatever we had brought with us to make a lot of noise.

Drinking Cider

After all the trees were blessed, the evil spirits driven away, and the trees had their drink of cider, we also got to have a cup full of hot cider to warm us up.

We had a lot of fun and I am fairly confident that there are no evil spirits remaining in the apple trees at Morden Hall Park.

You Might Also Like:

Follow Me – If you would like to keep up with my articles, you can receive an email every time I post (every other week or so). Just enter your email below and click the Follow the Curious Rambler button.

Pin it for later
Margo Lestz


  1. I can see you and Rach had great fun Wassailing. It is good to enjoy keeping old customs alive, specially something that looks so enjoyable in the middle of a cold winter. I hope the trees you wassailed bear a good crop this year. Best wishes, Paula

    1. Thanks, Paula. It was fun, and I’ll have to go back in the autumn to check up on the apple crop. 🙂

  2. I’m sure that Sage and I would have had a lot of fun wassailing with you guys! Interestingly, science supports the principles behind wassailing, as I found by searching on “do plants respond to voices and music?”

    Happy wassailing!


    1. Hi Paul, I know you and Sage would definitely enjoy wassailing. And I feel pretty sure that the apple trees heard us and enjoyed the wassailing too. 🙂

Leave a Comment