Make some noise in the orchard for annual wassail

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Preparations are once again underway for a revitalised English custom.

Stamford’s annual wassail will take place at the community orchard in Christ Church Close from 4.30pm tomorrow.

The ancient tradition of warding evil spirits from apple trees was revived in Stamford four years ago by Stamford Community Orchard Group. Member Maria Jameel explained the significance of the event.

“Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes haeil – ‘be well’, ‘be in good health,’ and in the past was commonly used as a greeting between the lord of the manor and the peasant workers,” she said.

“Wassailing is an old custom originating in English cider making districts, and traditionally it took place after dark on January 17 - the old Twelfth Night - but it could also occur on other days around Christmas and the New Year. The purpose of wassailing was to awaken the apple trees and, by scaring away evil spirits, to encourage them to fruit well the following season.

“The wassailing customs vary from village to village but they generally all have the same elements. A wassail king and queen lead the proceedings where cider is poured onto the roots of the largest or most productive tree, considered to be the guardian of the orchard and known as the apple tree man.

“Wassail (warm spiced cider) is then drunk and toast soaked in wassail is placed by the queen in the branches ‘for the robins’ - guardian spirits of the tree. The tips of the lowest branches are often drawn down and dipped into the cider.”

Members of Woven Chords choir will help lead the chants at tomorrow’s event and everyone has been invited to come along and make as much noise as they can. Visit www.scog-web.org.uk/Home.html.