THE mead is brewed. The cider is bottled. The cake is baked. And the‘Oss is out of his stable. Add in a few dozen villagers, some drums, pots, pans to bang to scare the evil spirits away, and get set to Wassail.

This ancient tradition has been brought to life for the past seven years in the village of Avebury.

And its popularity keeps growing. It is easy to see why. It is a big, joyful, community gathering involving singing, drumming, a reasonable amount of responsible drinking and a comforting connection to days gone by taking place yesterday (January 11).

Wassailing is the traditional start to the agricultural year and amounts to a blessing of the village fruit trees and the farmers plough in hope of a good harvest later in the year.

Wassail was usually celebrated on twelfth night, dating back to before 1066.

“The wheel of the year has turned, and our communities now look to renewal. So, it will be nice to join them in the old tradition of Wassailing,” said Gordon Rimes, Master of Ceremony and Pagan Priest.

“Once again the ‘Oss’ and the ‘Jolly Boys’ and Girls’ will raise the Wassail bowl and toast the land and fruit trees as we all join in a concerted effort to drive off bad spirits and to bless the land for a good harvest”

The beginning of the agricultural year was traditionally celebrated on the first Monday after twelfth night, known as Plough Monday. References to Plough Monday date back to the 15th Century and the day before was known as Plough Sunday. This ancient festival service sees farmers, gardeners and allotment keepers to bringing tools, seeds and bulbs to church for blessing ready for the spring planting season.

“This opportunity reminds us of the gift of creation and our shared purpose in caring for it,” said Rev Maria Shepherdson, Rector of the Upper Kennet Benefice.

“It enables all faiths to bless together the farmers and growers, the seeds, tools and the land and one another - not in solemnity but in Glorious Spirit-filled Joy – Wassail and Amen.”

The star of the show is the “Oss”, Spanker, who even has his own Facebook page.

Over the years, the Wassail has raised more than £600, which has helped the village orchard group plant and maintain new fruit trees on the Sportsfield and plant new hedges.

In 2019 it raised just over £150 for the Marlborough Downs Space for Nature initiative.