Firing At The Apple Trees
Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain
W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.
Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.
In Two Volumes
London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.
Vol. 1, p. 236
In Devonshire, on Twelfth Day Eve, the farmers used to rally out with guns and blunderbusses, and fire with powder only at the apple-trees in the orchards, pronouncing an invocation in doggerel, praying for a bountiful harvest of fruit. A representation of this ceremony was given in the Illustrated London News of January 11, 1851, and is reproduced on a smaller scale in the Antiquary for March, 1985, where the verses are given, with an account by a correspondent at Exeter. The origin of this custom is said to be unknown; the harmless fusillade may have been intended either as a salute to the good genius of the orchard or as a conjuration against evil spirits. The ancients attributed to their sylvan deities the prosperity of their fruit-seasons or otherwise.
Note: Also see Apple Howling. And compare Wassailing! and the following from William Hone, The Every Day Book: January 6 - Epiphany.