Have An Apple Tree? Get Out Your Toast!

Toast swinging from an apple tree. Richard Gillin/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Toast swinging from an apple tree. Richard Gillin/(CC BY-SA 2.0.

I do have an apple tree, so I’ll have to get some bread toasted, have some nice cider to pour and drink, and make a lot of noise.

After the New Year’s champagne is drunk and the Christmas tree is set out on the curb, the holiday season feels emphatically over. But in many apple-growing regions, there’s still one last celebration in January. Instead of champagne, the drink is hard cider. And instead of decorating a chopped-down pine, revelers tromp into apple orchards to drink and encourage a good harvest.

Apple wassailing, which has origins in southeast and southwest England, features a procession to the best apple tree in the orchard. There, revelers sing to the tree, decorate it with slices of toast to feed good spirits (and birds), and shoot rifles to scare away demons. Christmas-carolers may be familiar with the term “wassail.” An old Anglo-Saxon term for “Be in good health,” it became shorthand for both carolling and a spiced hot drink, made with either ale or cider. While pouring cider around tree roots, everyone usually shares a fanciful bowl of wassail.

You can read more about these apple tree traditions at Atlas Obscura. They date back about 500 years, and no need to worry about having missed it:

Often, it’s celebrated on January 5, which is Twelfth Night, the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. But Twelfth Night used to be on January 17. When the British switched from the ancient Julian calendar to the Gregorian system, though, in 1752, many counties kept the tradition on the old date. (If you live in an apple-growing area, you can celebrate twice.)


  1. says

    I only have the one tree, but I’m gonna hang the toast, pour the cider, and I expect the monster dogs will help me howl at the tree.

  2. says

    I expect the monster dogs will help me howl at the tree.

    Dogs are good at that.

    My favorite trick was to get Jake to howl at the echoes of his howling coming back off the hills. I think he knew what was going on, but I could get him chuffed up into doing it, and he’d go at it like a damnedbeast.

  3. chigau (違う) says

    We have three apple trees, bread for toasting, I can buy cider but I’m sure my city frowns on discharging firearms.
    oh well

  4. says

    Guns were not required. Banging on pots and howling are also acceptable. According to the wiki, the toast should be dipped in the mulled cider before hanging.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    On the iPad, if I touch-and-hold on the photo, I get two choices
    Save Image and Copy
    I Saved the image and it turned up in my Photos file sorted to the date you took it
    I also Copied it and pasted it into Notebook where it showed up as the image.
    Go figure.

  6. says

    I am not sure how our neighbour would react to me banging pots and howling.
    I am very sure that cider (or any alcohol, really) would give me a splinting headache and/or allergic reaction.

    I might get away with hanging up the toasts for birds.

  7. says

    Thanks, Marcus! That image mark-up will work for anyone who wants to put an image into comments. Like I said, I use the format toolbar to save time on that sort of thing, so I don’t have to keep all that nonsense in a file somewhere.

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    I have many apple trees, but I’ve never forced them into toast bondage. I think that would require affirmative consent …

  9. says

    It’s not bondage! It’s an offering to the gods for good apple growing, and it never hurts to be on the good side of the birds, who are the good spirits when it comes to Apple Orchard Wassailing.

  10. says

    What my apple tree needs is me sawing parts of it off.
    That’s not mean, but true. After we cut away the ivy it was visibly revivew and started out with lots of apples, but they didn’t make it to fall because the tree hasn’t bern propperly cut bacj in decades.

  11. Raucous Indignation says

    Caine, you sound like a Toast Bondage Apologist. Really, of all people, I expected better from you.

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