Last Friday night, nightclubbers were replaced by Morris dancers when we hosted Manchester City Centre’s first ever Wassail ceremony. The urban location, close to Victoria station in the new N.O.M.A development, created a brilliant juxtaposition, with our ancient fruit tree blessing ritual framed against a backdrop of high-rise office buildings and vibrant, metropolitan lighting.
In partnership with City of Trees, N.O.M.A and Dunham Press Cider, the event brought orchardists, cider-lovers, culture-seekers, office workers and the mere curious together to raise a toast of mulled cider. The Wassail parade was led by The Milltown Cloggies, a brilliant troupe of musicians and all-female Morris dancers based near Glossop. They stopped traffic with their jangling clogs as the parade made its way from the Marble Arch pub, through a small park and across a pedestrian crossing to halt outside the Cooperative Headquarters at N.O.M.A’s Angel Square.
The Mill Town Cloggies in action! Click to watch a clip of the Wassail parade.
As the sizeable crowd gathered, a Wassail Queen was selected by the very democratic method of tossing a hat to see which female should catch it. The volunteer was enthusiastic, boldly climbing the ladder to water the young fruit trees, hang up some cider-soaked toast in its branches and read a blessing aloud.
“Apples now, hat-fuls, cap-fuls,
three bushel bagfuls!
Let everyone take off their hat;
Here’s health to the old apple tree!”
A “what-sail”? asked one unsuspecting office worker passing by. Well, let us explain:
Wassails are an ancient tradition said to originate in the south west of the UK. There are two types: singing wassails where revellers would go door-to-door to ask for food, perhaps a precursor to our Christmas carol tradition; and orchard wassails with the purpose of paying homage to the fruit trees to provoke an abundant harvest. In keeping with our mission to celebrate and champion orchards, The Orchard Project endeavours to raise awareness of the cultural traditions surrounding these special spaces as part of our heritage, and supports local community orchard groups across England and Scotland to host wassails.
Join a wassail near you this January! See our events page for listings.