By Bailey Lucero-Carter
The winter season is the time for wishing good cheer on family members, friends—and trees. In fact, at Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, wishing good health on the orchards is the winter tradition of “wassailing,” which dates back for many centuries in England. Families and kids can dance, sing and celebrate the new season by merrily wishing the apple trees a good harvest for next year.
The tradition of wassailing began on Claude Moore Colonial Farm in 1973, the year the farm was first opened to the public, and since then, visitors and children especially have enjoyed participating in the festivity. The wassail consists of singing, chanting verses and dancing around the trees. Visitors can also pour cider on the roots and place bread on the branches, though you may opt to eat these treats yourself.
So what exactly does wassail mean and why does this tradition exist?
“To wassail simply means to wish health to, and what we do is we wassail the orchards,” says Jon-David Engle, facilities manager at the farm. “The idea is to encourage the trees to grow and bear well the following year.”
Although the tradition may seem antiquated in our modern world, the merriment surrounding the celebration is timeless. Every hour or half hour, kids can select a new tree to wassail, and when the wassailing gets chilly, everyone can huddle around the bonfire for warmth. This festive event is unique not only for its traditional roots, but also for its universal appeal. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, something else or nothing at all, the wassail is a winter celebration to be enjoyed by all.
Much like the wassail, which dates back as far as the 14th century, Claude Moore Colonial Farm is rich with historical significance.
“The farm portrays a tobacco farm, a tenant farm, a poor farm, from the year 1771,” says Engle. “[Volunteers and employees] welcome visitors as if they’re actually visiting them on the farm site in 1771. We practice first-person interpretation.”
After the wassail, Claude Moore Colonial Farm will be closed until the spring season begins. Only the GateHouse Holiday Shop will remain opened until Sunday, Dec. 28.
Wish the apple trees a happy winter and a fruitful new year with this year’s wassail. You may find that a lot of good cheer can outlast a long winter.
Claude Moore Colonial Farm
6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean
Dec. 14, 1 – 4 p.m.
$3 for adults, $2 for kids.