Old Apple Tree We’ll Wassail Thee

The Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival takes place in typical winter conditions and reflects the pagan rituals and traditions of the Apple Tree ‘Wassail’ where revellers can adorned themselves in clothes similar to those of the of the Border or Welsh Morriss of the 1500s. Traditionally they dressed in costumes known as ‘Tatters’, where they wore top hats and their faces were covered, or painted, so as not to be recognised by their neighbours as the begged for money on the streets.

The venue at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed in the Huon, has a reputation for growing apples and producing organic cider. The three-day celebration links several traditions including wassailing. The wassail awakes the cider apple trees, scares away evil spirits and ensures a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn. The custom of wassailing dates back to pagan times but has enjoyed a minor resurgence in recent years as cider has regained popularity among drinkers. Cidermakers have something to celebrate at last – and with the heritage of their product in the Huon, one of its selling points, holding a wassail makes perfect sense.

For those seeking to escape mid winter cabin fever, the Mid Winter festival is a winter feast featuring local produce, street theatre, storytelling, folk music, bonfires and the burning man all stitched together with the traditional apple tree Wassailing ceremony.

The large figurine in the image of a man is fashioned around a steel frame of wood and hay. The burning man had survived a week of gale force winds and driving rain. The lighting of the man was undoubtedly the highlight for many. How pagan that we all still love to see the burning man cheering wildly like a crowd possessed as the flames lick. Not much has changed in a couple of centuries as I sip on my cider.

Mike Briggs, Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival. July 2016

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