The Go Wild Go West blog

Wassailing: a good bit of bonkers British fun

Leave all seriousness behind and embrace the fantastic wackiness of wassailing. This is a brilliant and easy idea for some family fun on a cold winter’s night. Round up the kids, grab some pans, and wrap up warm to hold your very own wassail. After lockdown be sure to invite friends, family, and neighbours to join you!

wassailing a pear tree
waking up the pear tree

What is wassailing?

Wassailing is an English tradition which comes from the UK’s cider making regions like the South West. It involves ‘waking the trees’ by banging pots and pans, singing,, dancing, and making lots of noise to ward off bad spirits and encourage a good harvest in the year to come. It also requires drinking cider which I’m very fond of. The whole thing is enjoyably bonkers! You can follow the ancient tradition, or like us, pick a few bits from it and make it a hilarious knees-up.

For more information on the history of wassailing, there’s a lovely article by the National Trust here.

outdoor fun for kids
Here we go wassailing-oh

How to hold a wassail

Traditionally a wassail is held in an orchard but our wassail was during lockdown so was focused on a pear tree in the garden…. For the amateur wassailers amongst us, I think that any tree will do!

You can find details and videos of wassailing on the internet but here’s what we did for ours; (this is all optional and you can do as much or as little as you like)

  • Warm some mulled cider/apple juice to celebrate your wassail
  • Find/download the wassail song by John Kirkpatrick (we decided to have this playing in the background as we wassailed)
  • Light the firepit and maybe some candles outside for some warmth and light in the dark
  • Get your face paints out! My husband became ‘the green man’, I was a tree spirit (though it looked more like I’d just rolled in mud), Max was the Sun God, and Charlie was a robin.
  • If you have some headbands, decorate them with leaves and feathers
  • Make a piece of toast… explanation later
  • Gets some pans and bashing sticks or wooden spoons ready
wassailing

The wassail procession

  • We set off (from the backdoor) bashing our pans, playing the wassailing song in the background and attempting to sing along without knowing any words
  • As we reached the pear tree, we skipped around it a few times still bashing our pans and shouting ‘wake up’ … poor tree.
  • Max then circled around the tree with a candle three times to call the sun god.
  • Charlie (the robin) then dipped the toast in his apple juice and left it in the tree as an offering to the tree spirit. It’s supposed to be left on the roots of the tree but our dog would have eaten it within seconds so we went higher up!
  • We then bashed the tree a little to make sure it was properly awake and skipped around dancing a bit.
  • The ceremony is often finished off with a gun shot as a final wake-up for the tree. We don’t have a gun so bashed the pans in synchrony (or not given the children’s timing wasn’t great!)
  • Ceremony done, it was time to enjoy the cider and apple juice

It may be mad but wassailing is one of those fascinating British traditions that is great fun to indulge in! For any serious wassailers, I can only apologise for our unprofessional and slightly bodged wassail but it was A LOT of fun and something I’ll laugh about for years to come.

To have a good giggle, watch our wassail in action…

Here’s to next year’s non-lockdown wassail and to celebrating with our local community! For other ways to beat the winter blues, take a look at our blog on How to Think Like a Norwegian