17th of January is the original twelfth night according to the Julian calender.
This is the night to wassail your apple trees, to encourage them to bear a good
crop in the coming year.
This ceremony is observed in many parts of the country, one such gathering is
being held tonight at Stewley Orchard near Ilminster Somerset, the home of cider.
This award winning orchard holds a wassail every year. The evening will include a
display by Morris Dancers and the crowning of the Wassail Queen with a
wreath of berries. She will start the ceremony in the orchard by dipping a piece
of toasted bread into the cider and placing it in the fork of a tree as an
offering to the tree spirits.
Wassail comes from the old English greeting 'waes hael' which means
'be healthy or your good health' this apparently predates the
Norman conquest in 1066.
The main idea is to wake the slumbering apple trees and scare away evil
spirits from the trees by making as much noise as possible.
Blessings and prayers are said and quantities of hot spiced cider is drunk,
anything left over in the wassailing bowl is poured over the roots of the
oldest tree in the orchard.
'Old apple tree we wassail thee, and happily thou wilt
bear, for the Lord knows where we shall be, till apples another year'