The small River Dart village of Stoke Gabriel in South Devon is renowned for its apple orchards, and the premium apple juice and cider they produce. Every year this vibrant community comes together to take part in the ancient Wassail ceremony. The Wassail ceremony wakes the apple trees from their winter slumber with gun fire and singing, and offerings are made to the spirits of the trees to ensure a bountiful crop in that year’s apple harvest.

Stoke Gabriel Wassail on Saturday January 20 2024, combines this ancient ceremony with a glorious mid-winter folk festival of lantern making, morris dancing, Mummers players, storytelling, folk music, and local drink and food. As you would expect, there will be plenty of local cider. The mid-winter folk festival will be held in the atmospheric surroundings of Church Walk in the heart of the village. The Wassail ceremony will take place in the community orchard.

Friends of Stoke Gabriel School (FOSS), a charity supporting the school, organises the annual event. They will be putting on a BBQ and drinks stand for visitors. Other local food and drink suppliers will also be providing refreshments including Hunts Cider.

The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon greeting “Wæs hal” meaning “Good health”. It became a traditional toast using a goblet or cup of spiced ale or cider punch. Old twelfth night is when the oldest or best apple tree in the orchard was chosen to be wassailed or toasted in order to ensure a good crop of apples for that year’s harvest.

Stoke Gabriel Wassail begins with a magical lantern procession, lead by children from Stoke Gabriel Primary School with their willow and paper lanterns, through the community orchard. The Wassail singers will accompany the crowd in the traditional tune, ‘Here we come a-wassailing’. Once at the oldest tree, our Wassail Queen and King will pour cider over the roots of the apple trees before being hoisted high into the tree to put bread soaked in cider in the branches to feed the robins, the spirits of the trees. Everyone gathers around the trees to sing traditional wassail songs as a blessing to bring fruitfulness. The dramatic finale is the firing of shotguns to wake the trees from their winter slumber and chase away any evil spirits which might be lurking in the branches.

Entertainment is provided by Elfic the Jester, Beltane Border Morris Dancers, the Bovey Tracey Mummers Players, bands and the Wassail Singers. Story telling will take place in the Old School Rooms on Church Walk with Paul Sharman.

Stoke Gabriel Wassail is organised by FOSS. In past years the Wassail has raised over £2,500 for Stoke Gabriel Primary School, the money raised contributes to vital equipment, funding trips and enhancing the lives of the children at the school.

The event has been very popular, with around 400 people attending each year, including many from Stoke Gabriel itself, as well as from Totnes and the surrounding areas

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