In the picture below you see the ancient custom of wassailing. Some time in January, when the buds on the apple trees were becoming visible, the people of a farm would assemble in the apple orchard at night, pour a libation of cider or maybe ale onto the ground and say the incantation, which might begin
"Old Apple Tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear......."
Others might call out "Wassail, drink ale! The word wassail is Anglo-Saxon and is a cry meaning "Good Health" and this ancient word shows the venerable antiquity of the ceremony. In the picture you only see men [reflecting the sexism of that period] but women were and still are equal participants in wassail ceremonies.In mediaeval farms women tended the garden while men worked the fields and the orchard, so the libation pouring was done by males most likely, but the whole family would be involved, and all drank ale or cider on that night. Furthermore, the picture shows only gentlemen, but all ranks would be included in the wassailing.Nowadays no one would be surprised to see the ceremony being led by a woman.
The custom has not fully died out, as we British being a somewhat traditional lot have a small number among us who still wassail their apple trees.They tend to be folklore enthusiasts and some pagans. I do not do it, but the tradition is a nice one, so why not keep it up? The aim was to honour the good Earth with a payment for what she gives to us.You can see the pre-Christian origins of this tradition in honouring Mother Earth.
Cider, was traditionally brewed on West Country farms, where it was an important element of farm workers' wages. The workers would be fed by the farmers by being given breakfast and maybe lunch, at which they would receive their cider ration. This meant that they got a pint of cider at breakfast and lunch. Sometimes cider would be brewed with ginger as well as yeast to make traditional ginger ale. The reformers of the Victorian period, motivated in part by puritanical ideals worked hard to suppress this custom, and to this end they developed non-alcoholic ginger ale and also encouraged farmers to give their workers tea instead. The campaigners at no point asked the workers for their opinions on the reform or indeed their consent.
The cider that they brewed was characteristically cloudy, the cloudiness coming from a slight haze that you always get in home made ciders. The modern clear cider is what the older generations called ciderkin, little cider, and it is less strong than its ancient predecessor.<>