The village Wassails each Twelfth Night in January. Over 300 villagers, friends and 20 dancers and musicians process around the village visiting orchards old and new; large and small along the route to wake up their trees, drive evil spirits away and toast the good health of the trees with Lambswool.
A Mummers Play was also one of the Wassail highlights in Brightwell. All the traditional characters were there: King George, the French noble, the doctor, fair Molly and Johnny Jack.
The odd custom of wassailing is thought to date back to Roman times and was part of a festival for praising and encouraging Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. It was carried out on Twelfth Night to ensure a good crop of apples in the coming year.
Wassail is a traditional winter celebration with a definite ritual and form to the festivities. The largest tree in the orchard, or village, is chosen for the site of the party and then pieces of toast dipped in cider are hung in the branches. This is done to attract robins to the tree as these are held to be the good spirits of the orchard. It not only attracts them, it also feeds them in the depth of winter. To ward off evil spirits, shots are fired through the branches of the trees and villagers scare them away by banging pots and pans and making as much noise as possible.
To wake the trees from their slumber and get them ready for the spring, the villagers beat a chosen tree with sticks in each orchard and shout out “Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Wassail! Wassail!”
Cider is poured on the roots to keep the tree strong in the winter weather and feed it in the early spring. A toast to good health to one and all is given with Lambswool, a traditional mulled cider.
Wassail - Old English waes hael, literally means "be you healthy" and refers to both the salute Waes Hail and to the mulled cider drink wassail.
See what we did for our celebrations in 2018Have a look at our review in the Guardian of Wassail in 2016