Chillington held its first Orchard Wassail for many years on Saturday January 14th, with a crowd of Chillington villagers meeting at the village hall to re-enact a traditional Orchard Wassail.

Orchard Wassailing is a very ancient tradition that was once very common in cider-producing areas. Villagers would chant and sing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. It was originally always held on the 17th January, which was the last day of Christmas according to the old Julian Calendar. 

The villagers met last Saturday, which was the closest Saturday to the 17th of January. They were led by Leslie and John, their colourfully dressed Wassail King and Queen, and walked in procession from the hall to a nearby apple tree, carrying lanterns, playing music, and banging drums and pots and pans. Once there they put the lanterns around the tree, and decorated the tree with colourful ribbons.

The word wassail comes from the Old English ‘wes hál’ meaning ‘be in good health’ and gradually became the name of the spiced ale used in Twelfth Night celebrations, and of the custom of drinking people’s health on that night.

Wassail ceremonies varied from village to village, but basically a Wassail King and Queen would lead a very noisy procession and play or sing to the trees. The Wassail Queen would be lifted up into the boughs of the tree to place toast soaked in cider as a gift to the tree spirits and to show them the previous year’s crop.

The noise and singing was intended to wake the apple trees and scare away evil spirits, so that there would be a good apple harvest the next autumn.

After a Wassail Blessing was given by Mark Kitchenside, the villagers sang to bless the local apple trees and the next year’s harvest, dipped toast in cider and put it amongst the branches of the tree. Once back at the hall, everyone sampled cider made from the last autumn’s apple crop by villagers in the age old traditional fashion, listened to live music, and ate hot dogs.

Chris Hart, Chair of Chillington Community Association, who helped to organise the ceremony, said: "a jolly time was had by all!"

The Wassailing Blessing:

We pray Thee God bless our apple tree

May it be filled with abundant fruit from Thee

In Spring may its leaves be verdant green

and all over it may bright blossom be seen.

Protect it from all bugs and pestilence

with joy and good fortune round it fence.

May our fields stand high with grain and seed

that none may know a time of need.

May our flocks and herds grow tall and strong

as they eat and chew and trot along

May our hearths and homes know joy and peace

that warmth and welcome never cease.

And bless us as we drink our cider and join in song

that in joy and celebration all may belong.

Amen, Hoorah!