Not far from us, there is a leafy, green and bumpy lane, quiet apart from birdsong, surrounded by allotments and further on up, an orchard. We go this way, several times a week, to walk to and from pre-school.
It is a pleasant walk and the air feels fresh and clean due to the lack of cars and houses nearby. We enjoy seeing the birds in the trees and the vegetables growing and recently, to my son’s delight, a scarecrow!
So we were pleased to see notices recently telling us aboout the ‘Wassail’ celebration, to be held in the orchard on Sunday 15th January. This was being organised by members of Horfield Organic Community Orchard and the community was invited to take part.
For those who don’t know, Wassail is an ancient, English tradition, held once a year in deepest, darkest Winter. It involves toasting and celebrating fruit trees with the purpose of guaranteeing an abundance of fruit at Harvest time.
The notices told us to bring ribbons, clouties and shining things to dress the trees. Luckily, I had a stash of various ribbons in the house, mainly from Christmas presents once received. I showed my little boy and girl the ribbons and each chose one; my son a long, thick, sparkly one and my daughter a narrow, silver one.
The event was free and on entering the orchard we were greeted by a warm and friendly hubbub of people from nearby and the smells of hot spiced apple brewing and a crackling, woody bonfire. When it was time for the celebration to begin, all gathered round an apple tree and the man leading the Wassail explained to everyone how it is performed.
Part of the ceremony involves making lots of noise in order to ‘wake’ the trees up from Winter’s spell. All were encouraged to clap and bang sticks and generally make a deafening din! Then, there was another stage which involved toasting the tree.
Children were encouraged to join in by throwing cups of cider around the tree. Lastly, ribbons were tied to the tree by everyone, including myself, my husband and the children, where we hung our own ribbons together at the end of a low branch.
Following the ceremony, we all walked to the top of the orchard. We bought home-made Apple Loaf and watched the Pigsty Morris Dancers. My children were fascinated by the dancers in their costumes of green ribbons of cloth and their white handkerchiefs and wooden sticks.
It was a good feeling to stand watching the dancers, with the views of the allotments in the background, munching our cakes and breathing in the brisk, clean air.
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