Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Apple Wassailing in Haslemere

On Friday 17 January 2020 the National Trust held an apple tree wassailing at their Swan Barn Farm property, in Haslemere, Surrey.

The Haslemere Herald, of 16 January, contained an article with the headline ‘Help to ward off the evil spirits…’: ‘The entertainment from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. involves pagan “spirit warding” at the ceremony performed to banish “evil spirits” from the orchards and ensure a bumper apple crop.  Traditionally, everyone makes as much noise as possible and a piece of toast soaked in cider is hung on the branches to attract the good spirits, while cider is sprinkled around the roots of the tree.’

People started gathering soon after six o’clock, and stood around chatting and enjoying various mulled drinks until about 7.15, when there was a brief introduction to the event.  This made no mention of evil spirits, but concentrated on green issues, urging people to plant a tree or dig a pond, not rely on politicians but take actions as individuals.

After this people who had bought torches lit them and processed to the orchard where they gathered around an apple tree.  Due to exceptionally muddy conditions the procession was shorter than usual, 100, or more, people participated.  Three songs – Oh apple tree (sung to the tune more usually associated with The Red Flag), Here we come a wassailing, and the Gower Wassail Song – were sung with most people participating.  Some people had brought along kitchen pots and pans and spoons, which banged to make a noise; pieces of white sliced-bread were placed on the branches of the tree, and cider was thrown at it.

Then most people returned to the starting point to enjoy refreshments and live music.   It was perhaps noteworthy that at this wassailing, unlike some which attract mainly ‘folkies’, nearly all the people present were what might be described as ‘general public’ – a good mixture of families and people of all ages, except the elderly.

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