06/01/2017 13:12 GMT

What Is Apple Wassailing? Here's Why You Might Spot People Pouring Cider On Trees This January

'Be of good health.'

Wassailing is an ancient tradition which dates back to pagan times and is still practised in many areas of the UK.

Wassailing can refer to the tradition of going door-to-door singing songs in exchange for food and drink, a practice traced to feudal times.

But more prevalent today, particularly in the West Country, is apple wassailing.

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A wassail near Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, on 4 January this year

There is no set date for these, but many are held on Epiphany or Twelfth Night (6th January) or Old Twelfth Night (17th January).

This is a ceremony to bless the orchards so the coming crop will be plentiful.

Cider is poured on the roots of trees to “wassail” them, a word which translates as “be of good health”.

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Morris dancers may perform at wassails

A wassail King and Queen may also sprinkle toast dipped in cider around the orchard to bless the trees.

Of course, plenty of cider is also drunk.

Locals will sing wassail songs to encourage the harvest and dances may be performed around the trees, sometimes by troops of Morris Men.

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Locals prepare for the ceremony near Bolney, West Sussex

Finally, everyone will make as much noise as possible so as to scare away any evil spirits from the orchard.

Drums, tambourines, pots and pans and all other manner of noisy implements will be used to create a din - with some wassails even including shotgun fire.

This is perhaps why the ceremony is also sometimes known as a “howling”.

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A wassail in Somerset in 1931

Notable wassails still held today include in Clevedon, Carhampton and Dunster in Somerset, as well as in Whimple and Sandford in Devon.

So if you spot someone pouring their cider on a tree, they’re wassailing it (or admittedly perhaps have drunk slightly too much already).