On the old Twelfth Night (17th January) a traditional ceremony known as a wassail takes place in villages and orchards across England.
What is Wassailing, I hear you ask? This ancient custom usually involves a lot of singing, dancing and merriment, along with the hanging of cider-soaked toast from trees; and generally making lots of noise, with anything from pots and pans to gun fire, to frighten away any evil spirits.
The purpose of these quirky festivities is to ensure a good apple harvest for the coming year (well, that used to be the reason, now it’s more for fun). So, it’s no surprise that many of the orchards in the South West, home to our traditional cider production, will be taking part in this age-old custom.
But it’s not just the South West, there are a growing number of events taking place across the UK. So, if you like the idea of making a ridiculous amount of noise and need an excuse to drink cider, then take a look at some of the events happening this month…
In the North
Crook Morris Wassail Day
First up, we have the Crook Morris Wassail Day, which will take place on Saturday 11th January with a cheery ceremony taking place at a local damson orchard in Cumbria’s Lyth Valley.
The Lyth Valley is famed for its damson crop, so the wassail takes place in a damson rather than apple orchard, and damson beer is used for the wassail rather than cider!
Everyone is welcome along for lunch-time ceremony at the orchard, to make as much noise as possible around damson tree. After some singing, damson beer is passed around and wassail cake is eaten. Pieces of toast are dunked in the beer and hung on the branches. The celebrations will continue at the The Derby Arms, Witherslack, from 3pm. Here a Mummers’ play is performed, and the drinking and dancing continues…
Manchester’s Old Twelvy Night Wassail
Our second suggestion is a new event for 2020, taking place in Manchester City Centre. The Old Twelvy Night Wassail, on Friday 17th January, will feature mulled cider, a parade, community choir singing, dancing, apple pressing and planting.
Events will begin at 4.30pm with some pedal-powered apple pressing, as well as apple-themed crafts and games, courtesy of City of Trees. Join the Wassail Band and Mill Town Cloggies at The Marble Arch pub, ready for the parade to the orchard at 5.45pm. Following the parade, the Wassail Ceremony will take place (as well as more merriment back in the pub). The event is free to attend but donations are appreciated.
In the Midlands
Help raise money for the Herefordshire village of Colwall’s Community Orchard by joining in with their wassail on Saturday 18th January. There will be a torch lit procession to the orchard (so make sure you bring a torch), as well as a ceremony with dancing and singing around the bonfire, mulled apple juice and cider.
Visitors are encouraged to wear a silly hat, and bring pots, pans, spoons, whistles and horns in order to make a noise! Wellies and warm clothes are also advisable. Tickets should be bought in advance (£3 for adults and £1 for children).
The wonderfully named Domesday Morris will be leading a torch-lit procession through the Staffordshire village of Penkhull on Saturday 18th January.
The parade will be stopping along the way for singing and dancing, with appearances from Penkhull Brass and the Penkhull Mystery Singers. Everyone is welcome along to join the residents of Penkhull for music, dancing and free home-made cider wassail, from 4.30pm. There is also a ticketed Ceilidh following the wassail.
In the South
Pentacle Drummers Wassail
The Pentacle Drummers Wassail is another event taking place on Saturday 18th January, allowing visitors to Pevensey the chance to enjoy an evening of ceremony, drumming, dancing and friendship.
The wassail will be a family friendly event with Morris dancers and fire dancers at The Royal Oak And Castle. Participants can follow a small torch-lit procession to the ceremony (remember to wrap up warm) and the event will be raising money for St Wilfrid’s Hospice.
Frieze Hill Community Orchard Wassail
Also on the 18th January, visitors are welcome to make a noise at the Frieze Hill Community Orchard Wassail, in Taunton. Bring bells, whistles, horns or drums to help wake up the trees, and enjoy mulled cider, apple cake, and bacon rolls.
Entertainment will come in the form of the Big Noise Street Band and the Taunton Thespian Mummers performing St George and the Dragon. Warm up by the bonfire, and don’t forget the wellies and torches!
Midnight Apothecary Wassail at the Brunel Museum
The Brunel Museum is once again inviting guests to their ancient appley affair. Join the Butler of the Feast and the Wassail Queen to sing the Wassail Carol, along with the GreenTad folk musicians.
Enjoy some Hot Deluxe Wassail Punch and other warming cocktails, toast marshmallows around the fire, and tuck into some hot food. Tickets are priced from £10.
Wassail with music, Mummers and Morris men in the Devon village of Sandford as they bless the orchards once again. The festivities, on Saturday 18th January, promise to carry on into the night with mulled cider and merriment.
Join the walk to the Millennium Green for a bonfire, Morris dancing, comedy, toasted marshmallows, hot chocolate, the orchard’s mulled cider and lots of noise. Visitors should note that there is limited parking in the village and wellies or boots are essential.
Wassailing at Avalon Orchard
Over in Somerset, The National Trust ranger team will be having a family friendly, festive celebration in the orchard at Glastonbury Tor.
On Saturday 18th January, tours of the Tor will be available from 2pm, and there’ll be singing, fireside storytelling and cider. The path to the wassailing ceremony will be signposted and lit on the afternoon, so head along with some warm clothes, a torch and (most importantly) cash for the bar. Event tickets cost £3 for adults and £1 for children.
Winter Wassailing at The National Trust’s Swan Barn Farm
The National Trust will be hosting more wassailing activities at Swan Barn Farm in Surrey on old Twelfth Night itself. Banish the evil spirits from their orchard by joining them for an evening of spirit warding, singing and noise-making.
Join the procession and remember to take along your pots and pans to help make some noise and scare away the spirits. Children, and well-behaved dogs on leads welcome. The ground may be muddy, so some wellies are advisable. There’ll be live music and produce from the orchards afterwards back at the Basecamp. Free admission.
Stoke Gabriel Wassail
Finally, head to the Devon village of Stoke Gabriel for an evening of tradition and merriment.
This year’s entertainment will include the ancient wassail ceremony in the orchard, live music, street theatre, children’s entertainment, storytelling, a BBQ and plenty of local cider. It all kicks off at 4pm on Saturday 18th January.