On a winter’s evening in January, usually Old Christmas Eve (January 5), Twelfth night (January 6) or Old Twelfth night (January 17), about 200 townsfolk gather to play witness to a wassail ceremony, which resembles something out of a medieval Shakespearean play from what I’ve seen on the Internet.
“Wassail ceremony is a wonderful assault on winter dulled senses”, explains Norman Stanier, Vice-Chairman of The Big Apple and owner of Dragon Orchard. “It has noise, music, drums, procession, torchlight, fires, cider, roasted pig, songs, acting, and loud noises often of shotguns being fired.”
A wassail King and Queen lead a torch-held procession in song, from orchard to orchard. The wassail was important in the past when part of a labourer’s wage on a farm was paid in cider. Today, farmers who are motivated by superstition and tradition carry on the pagan ceremony.
After much dancing and singing, noise making and merriment, the evening culminates in gunshots to scare the evil spirits away, and the wassailers head back to the local pub for dancing, cider, and entertainment.
Here’s our pick of the UK’s best Wassail events in 2011:
- 6th January Leominster Morris wassail venue TBC
- 8th January Ostrich Inn at Newland, Monmouth
- 15th January Stoke Gabriel, Devon
- 15th January Middle Farm, East Sussex
- 17th January Carhampton, Exmoor
- 23rd January Willesden Green Wassail, London’s only Wassail
All will usually provide hot food and drink available and a well stocked cider bar.