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When I was invited to venture to Fennville, Michigan in the middle of February, I have to admit that it gave me pause. After visiting Ottawa for Winterfest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend more time outside in the cold. As it is only a two hour drive from Chicago, I decided to give it a try and attend the fifth annual Wassail festival at Virtue Cider.
What is a Wassail Festival?
Wassail is an English pagan tradition of blessing ones apple orchard. It was thought that in order to ensure a good crop, farmers would need to scare any evil spirits away from the trees. This was done in a couple of ways. One way to scare spirits away is through loud singing or music in the orchards. Another way is by soaking pieces of bread in cider and using rope to tie the bread around branches at the orchard. This keeps the “god of the harvest” happy as well as attracting birds who can scare away evil spirits while fertilizing the area.
Why is it a Winter Wassail Festival and not a Spring or Summer Wassail?
Wassail is all about blessing the trees while they are dormant, before the growing season. Part of the revelry and music is meant to “wake” the tree roots to start producing a good crop. If you are planning on visiting Michigan in the summer, consider trying these things to do in Petoskey or things to do in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
What is there to do at a Winter Wassail Festival?
Sure a Wassail is about drinking cider, but there it is more about coming together in community during the cold winter months. At Virtue Cider, the activities available during Wassail are:
- Percheron Sleigh Rides
- Icelandic Sheep feedings
- Lunch and dinner feasts
- Performance Art (Fire Dancing)
- Live Music
Unfortunately, as most of us in the middle of the continent are aware, this winter has been very icy. Sleigh rides and snowshoeing was canceled due to an abundance of caution, but we did go on a cidery tour instead. Heading North from Fennville? Consider trying these things to do in Ludington, Michigan.
Is a Winter Wassail All Ages?
Virtue Cider’s winter wassail festival is all ages, but you’ll have to bring your own non-alcoholic beverages. Due to regulations that I know nothing about, Virtue wasn’t able to serve non-alcoholic cider.
How Much Does it Cost to Attend?
It is free to attend Wassail at Virtue Cider. Cider costs between $6-$12 and a plate for food is $10.
What do you Wear for a Winter Wassail Festival?
Your warmest clothes! My husband and I started off wearing long underwear under our clothes, and then our standard winter coats, gloves and hats. We were still freezing, so we slipped into our snow pants and that made a world of difference. Most people were in fleece lined jeans or snow pants as well. Since most of the time is spent outdoors, you’ll want to be prepared.
Where do I get a Mask for Wassail?
Mask making is part of the festivities! Just show up and you can make one there.
How Much is the Cider?
You receive one token for cider when you purchase a plate for a meal, but all of the cider offerings are available for between $6-$12 depending on if you want a souvenir mug.
Is There Anything Else to Drink at a Wassail Other than Sweet Cider?
Have you tried Virtue Cider’s Brut cider? Like all of their offerings, nothing is overly sweet. Even if you aren’t a cider drinker, you need to give it a try. If you don’t like cider, bring your own drinks. Or, you could find out what kind of grapes and wines are made in Michigan.
Interested in seeing more of what a winter wassail festival entails? Check out my YouTube video above.
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