Wassailing is a traditional German drinking ritual, aimed to promote a good cider apple harvest over the course of the following year. It has been occurring in England since before Shakespeare’s time but the tradition is rapidly dying out, with fewer and fewer participating each January. Wassail itself is a type of fruity cider, and in its simplest form, the event is a celebration of beautiful apple orchards and toasting to the health of the trees over the next year.
Ellie Simmons, a local resident, decided to go and experience Wassailing this January with her boyfriend, in order to investigate this strange custom that occurs in New Ash Green each year. She was shocked by the bizarre hats that people wore, and felt that the cider was an acquired taste; but as people have been marching down to the orchard in New Ash Green for years to celebrate this British tradition, clearly local residents enjoy it very much. Ellie felt that although the festival was a very new concept to her, it ‘promoted a sense of village togetherness’ and she felt that if it hadn’t been raining, it would have been a ‘thoroughly enjoyable experience, which showed just how much the people of New Ash Green love being part of such a close rural community’.
The festival consisted of a sort of ‘pre-festival’ in the village hall, with entertainment by two dancing groups, West Hill Morris and St Clements Clogs. After this, locals wandered down to New Ash Green’s picturesque orchard, some holding burning torches to light the way. Everyone was given a leaflet and some cider while they sung a selection of traditional songs and residents played instruments like accordions. The festival had a wonderful atmosphere, as it was filled with local families and excitable children, and despite the cold and rain, it was a fun and memorable evening for everyone involved. January 2016 was New Ash Green’s 11th annual wassail, and it is a key part of English history that will hopefully be continued for many years to come.