Orchard wassailing events take center stage throughout England this time of year, especially in cider apple-growing regions where local villagers partake in the Halloween-like tradition.

Lantern-lit groups gather in their local orchard, usually on or around Jan. 17, to sing to an apple tree and anoint it with an offering of cider and toast.

There’s also the firing of a gun, a wassailing queen, drinking out of a communal "wassail bowl" and other quirky practices related to this English tradition aimed at warding away evil spirits for a good crop.

Though there are no wassailing events of note in Suffolk or Cambridgeshire this year, the festivals have been revived in recent years in villages in southwest England and Hertfordshire, where large cider apple orchards thrive, said Edward Bartlett, a heritage officer at the Anglo-Saxon Village in West Stow, near RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall.

Wassail translates to "good health" in the language of the ancient Anglo-Saxons, Bartlett said. And the toast "given" to the tree dates to old practices of downing cider and other drinks with bits of toast served floating in the liquid — delicious.

Rooted in ancient pagan rituals, wassailing events are much like Americanized Halloween traditions: kid-friendly in its modern incarnation with a little good-natured supernatural folklore.

"Some of it is rather weird," said Bartlett, who attended wassailing festivals as a youth. "But it’s also great because it provides a connection of sorts to some distant past, even if you don’t know quite why you’re doing it. That’s the charm of keeping up tradition, I suppose."

Like Halloween — which is rooted in early Celtic culture — wassailing is associated with the harvesting of food and the forces of nature believed to guide the process.

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