When: 5th January 2019, 6pm
Where: Old Mill Farm, Bolney, West Sussex RH17 5SE
£: Free, but donations welcome
What is it?
Apple Howling or ‘wassailing’ is an ancient custom, that traditionally takes place in the apple orchards of southern England.
The wassailing custom was thought to drive out evil spirits and encourage the good spirits to produce a good cider apple crop.
The Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men revived this tradition in Bolney more than 45 years ago, and it has now become an essential part of the Christmas season for many local people. The Apple Howling ceremony was traditionally held on the eve of Twelfth Night, old Christmas Day, but now takes place on the first Saturday in January.
The proceedings for Bolney’s Apple Howling begin in the farmyard with a torchlight procession down the lane to the orchard, where the wassailers encircle one of the oldest trees. The Master of the Ceremony leads an invocation, encouraging the tree to produce a bumper crop in the coming season. A spiced and cider-soaked wassail cake is placed in a fork of the tree and cider is poured over the roots to promote good growth.
After some more words of encouragement for the tree, the Master of the Ceremony calls for beaters to thrash the trunk of the tree with sticks. The harder they hit, the greater the stimulation. This part of the event particularly appeals to the younger members of the crowd.
The beating is followed by a wassail song and a number of dances by the Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men. This year, the Morris Men will be joined by Whispering Woods for the wassail.
The highlight of the ceremony, the ‘general hullabaloo’, begins with a shotgun being fired into the air, at which point everyone makes as much noise as possible. The crowd are encouraged to take along their own ‘instruments’ in the form of dustbin lids, old saucepans, football rattles or whatever makes a noise. The hullabaloo ends with another gunshot.
The evening concludes back at the farmyard with spiced wassail cakes and English cider. A collection is taken to help cover the cost of holding the event, and help keep it running.