Orchards all over Minnesota are practicing an ancient tradition this month. I first heard about this from Sweetland Orchards, my favorite orchard and cidery. They sent out an email saying they were going to be hosting a party in the barn and going out into the orchard at sunset with noisemakers to scare away spirits and taking toast to tie to the oldest tree in the orchard.
I had heard of Wassailing before but it was always in conjunction with Christmas or Yule celebrations. To wassail means to go visiting. Apparently southern England has its own still strong tradition of apple wassailing that is visiting the orchards. They would go out to sing songs and pour out offerings to the trees showing the spirit of the orchard what they had produced with the previous year's bounty and asking for abundance in the coming growing season.
The toast puzzled me so I looked into that further. Apparently older traditions would soak the toast with some of the cider to hang in the branches before pouring some out on the roots. Other places hang it in the branches dry. One site even suggested that it was hung for the robins. None were good at explaining the origins of the toast in the branches itself, just that it has long been done that way.
Many English orchard wassailing parties take guns and shoot them off in addition to the noise makers just in case banging on pots and pans and yelling isn't quite enough to scare off any evil spirits. They are serious about the cider making over the pond.
Sweetland Orchards chose to follow many others in long tradition of holding their orchard wassailing on 12th Night or Epiphany. That is by no means the only date to hold this ceremony though. There are advertisements for wassailing from early January thru early February.
Blessings on the coming growing season and all who benefit from apples growing.