Barbara and Alan Ross of Burton City Cidery have brought an English tradition west after hosting the cidery’s first wassailing party on Jan. 14.
Wassailing is a tradition that goes back centuries and falls into two categories: house-visiting wassailing and orchard-visiting wassailing.
Orchard-visiting wassailing seems to have originated in western England and its purpose was to wake up the cider apple trees and to scare away any evil spirits. This would help to ensure a good harvest in autumn.
The Ross’ heard about wassailing at a cider convention and thought it would be a fun thing to do and a good way to say thank you to the community.
“It’s nice to do something after the Christmas rush,” said Alan. “There are so many Christmas events and Christmas parties, it’s kind of nice to have something in January when things can get a little bleak.”
Festivities began around 5 p.m.
Driving up to the cidery, embers could be seen climbing high into the night from the giant bonfire set up in the back yard with wood piled about four feet high. The heat could be felt from meters away and the continuous crackle of wood as it burned was distinctly heard. Bales of hay were set out for those who wanted to sit down.
Once preparations were made, Barbara and Alan, dressed as the Antler King, lead the wassailers to the tallest apple tree in the orchard with everyone singing “A-wassailing We Will Go” along the way.
Gathering around the tree in nearly knee deep snow, party goers hung cider soaked pieces of toast on the tree to make sure the harvest would be a good one. As the Antler King, Alan hung the first piece.
After all the toast was hung, Barbara dumped a glass of cider on the tree’s roots to further ensure the harvest, something she really enjoyed.
“I really like the blessing idea,” she said. “I feel blessed to be here in the community and I like the idea of the blessing concept for a new year and a happy orchard.”
After many cheers and hoorays, everyone was whisked inside for a potluck dinner. Laid out on a table against the far wall was a variety of hot soups and chili, pastas, salads, and of course, the famous cider from Burton City Cidery.
Following dinner and dessert, wassailers were welcomed to head back out into the back yard to enjoy the bonfire that was still burning strong.
Everyone enjoyed the evening, including Brian Harrop.
Harrop had never heard of wassailing before being invited to the event by the Ross’. He thinks having the cidery in Burton is important and stressed the importance of supporting local businesses in the community.
“We lost our school and we lost the store,” he said. “Anything that helps the community and brings in tourists and brings in business, is a great idea.”
Dave Fraser agrees.
“Areas like this — they need small businesses,” he said. “This is unique and hopefully attracts people from far away and not just locals.”
Fraser is actually one of the people from away. He and a group of friends drove to his place in Fauquier from Stonewall, Manitoba, a community north of Winnipeg. They arrived in Fauquier that morning, heard about the event, and decided to come.
Fraser’s friends were equally as impressed with the cidery and the support it has received from the community.
“I think all of the areas (around Burton) suffer from depressed economies,” he said. “When you see somebody who wants to take a risk like this and branch out, you’ve got to support it.”
Since the party proved successful, the Ross’ plan on turning this into an annual event.