Wassailing is an ancient tradition which consists in blessing an apple trees at the twelfth night, or thee Twelfth Night, and asking the spirit of the tree for a bountiful harvest of fruits the following autumn. Some held this celebration according to the Gregorian calendar and mark Twelfth Night on the 6th of January, however, it strictly begins at dusk on the day before, and others celebrate according to the older Julian calendar which goes until the 17th of January.
This celebration consists in singing and giving good wishes at yuletide, very much similar to the modern tradition of carolling. These serenades were in honor to the apple trees, to ensure a good harvest of apples and other fruits and consequently a good cider during this period. This is a time when the world is turned upside down, the Lord of Misrule reigns for a day, and the spirits draw close, including those of trees
People who cared for an apple tree (and this tradition is still strong in the cider growing areas of England and the marches of Wales) set out with gifts of hot cakes and cider as an offering to the spirit of the tree. Usually, a cider soaked cake was hoisted high and left in the fork of a branch, with more cider splashed on the earth over the roots. Whereas many people think that tree spirits are called Dryads, this word actually only refers to the spirit of oak trees. The spirits of apple trees are called Epimeliads.
In order to put away any negative or malicious influence, people might shout or bang pan lids together. After this, all involved in the celebration, sing the wassailing song, asking for a good crop of apples the following autumn.
Following the formal part of the ritual, the ceremony concludes with sharing cider and cakes among all those present. Traditionally, a single bowl of cider was passed around the company so it became a ‘loving cup’ binding all there in fellowship and community.
It is very interesting to notice that in Nordic tradition, the Goddess Idun held the apples of immortality that kept the Gods young and a great source of food in Asgard, for she also was the keeper of the Gods’ orchards. To the people of those ages, including the Anglo-Saxons who probably began the wassailing tradition, apples may have been more than a simple fruit.
The earliest accounts of this tradition, tell us how the person in charge of the ceremony, carried a wooden bucket filled with cider all the way to the chosen tree, that would certainly be the oldest and most venerated tree in the region. It is believed that the person who was in the charge of this ceremony was also the oldest person or the most respected person in the region, the village elder. The people followed him, laden with lanterns, musical instruments, buckets of apples and hunting horns, when arriving on the scene they would form a circle around the tree and then began the traditional songs of Wassil.