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.

All gathered around the tree before the fires are lit

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:

All will usually provide hot food and drink available and a well stocked cider bar.

Wassail!

  • Geoff Collins

    Usually a very good Wassail evening at Barrington Court Somerset.

  • Lisa-Evans

    Having just read your selection of Wassails for the New Year, I would heartly recommend the Wassail at The Fleece at Bretforton, near Evesham, Worcestershire as being pretty special.

    Firstly the setting is unique as the pub has hardly changed for several generations – it is now owned (but not operated) by the National Trust. They have a great old barn from which they serve food and drink. Lots of impromtu singing continues and fiddling etc occurs here!

    There is a great turnout of Morris sides who dance their stuff, (plus lead the Wassail ceremonies)and a good turn out from the general public which gives the whole event a great atmosphere.

    I attended last year with friends and a cider client of mine and we both thought it was a great night out!

  • seraph

    I would NOT recommend Carhampton, even though it’s the most well known.

    Last time I went they were burning an old kitchen on the fire!?

    The cider was awful and they didn’t explain the ritual for newcomers.

    Barrington Court is the complete opposite – sublime, rather than the Carhampton ridiculous

  • Jim Callender

    thanks for your comment! I will add it to the list for next year :)