The Origins of "Wassail"
The term 'Wassail' is a heartfelt toast from antiquity. Hailing from the Old Norse phrase "ves heil" and the Old English "was hál", it's an ode to wellness, translating to "be you healthy". This age-old greeting captures the essence of community and goodwill, especially in the cold embrace of winter. If there is one experience that unifies the town of Woodstock - it is the embrace of winter.
The Roots in Orchard Traditions
Delving deeper into its past, wassailing finds its roots in the apple-growing regions of England. It was believed that the spirits residing in orchards needed to be awakened and appeased during the winter months. Villagers, thus, embarked on twilight processions. Carrying lanterns and the revered wassail bowl filled with spiced ale or cider, they would visit orchards. Singing melodies and offering drinks to the oldest apple tree, the "Apple Tree Man", they invoked its blessings and protection against malevolent spirits. This ritual was seen as a promise of a fruitful harvest in the coming year.
Woodstock's Timeless Adaptation
Woodstock, with its verdant landscapes right out of a Currier and Ives print, found resonance with this tradition. We adapted and made it our own. While we might not be serenading apple trees, the essence of coming together, of celebrating the coming winter and each other, remains intact.
Over the decades, Wassail Weekend has transformed. From horse-drawn carriages trundling down snow-kissed streets to town folk donned in period attire and a gingerbread house big enough to fit an armchair and some children, Woodstock has crafted a vibrant tableau of yuletide charm.
When many folks think of Wassail Weekend, they think of the Wassail parade. The quintessential Wassail Horse Parade on Saturday afternoon is one of the most treasured features of the weekend. Originating in the late 1980s by Antoinette Matlins, Paul Kendal and a full community effort, the parade features equestrians in holiday costume, beautiful horses and decorated wagons with carolers and musicians, riding through the Village and circling The town Green. We not only honor the past but also create new memories, new traditions, and new stories.
The Heartbeat of a Community
What sets Wassail Weekend apart is its embodiment of Woodstock's communal spirit, and the spirit of holiday - joy, kindness, understanding and community. It's a symphony of laughter, song, and shared memories as the community enjoys Wassail and other treats on the town green as the parade kicks off. It's the warm glow of paper luminaries, the rich aroma of spiced cider and bonfire rising from the Green after the sun has set. The soft cadence of carolers, and the spectacle of the tree lighting, with the town star on Mount Toms South Peak visible in the distance. But above all, it's a testament to a town's ability to preserve its history while looking forward to the promise of tomorrow.