The Open UniversitySkip to content

Wassail! Reinventing ‘tradition’ in contemporary wassailing customs in southern England

Wigley, Edward (2019). Wassail! Reinventing ‘tradition’ in contemporary wassailing customs in southern England. cultural geographies, 26(3) pp. 379–393.

DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


On a bleak winter’s Saturday evening, I find myself along with many others in the middle of a suburban park located in a small town in North Somerset, singing, shouting and toasting to an apple tree, otherwise known as ‘wassailing’. The practice of wassailing the orchards has become increasingly popular since the early 2000s with the custom being performed in community orchards, city farms and public gardens across the United Kingdom and beyond every January. Yet, this tradition which emerges in rural villages to protect the valuable crop of the fruit-producing regions is now practised in built-up areas, often with little or no history of fruit farming. Through in-depth interviews with organisers of local wassails, this research explores how the historic customs of orchard wassailing have been translated into contemporary set of practices that responds to the needs of the organisers and the interests and attitudes of the participating audiences. Events in this research critically engaged with and drew upon historic traditions of wassailing, modifying certain elements due to contemporary regulations or attitudes towards gender and identity. I argue that despite this critical reflection, the notion of ‘tradition’ was mobilised to authenticate and reassert the local identity of the event, even in cases where the wassail was recently ‘reinvented’. The article contributes to the theoretical discussion of ‘tradition’ as a symbolically static reassertion of identity while simultaneously fluid and responsive to the social values of the time. Empirically, the article responds to a lack of coverage in academic literature of this custom, contributing an account of how the wassailing ‘tradition’ is reinvented for a contemporary audience.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2019 The Author
ISSN: 1477-0881
Keywords: community orchard; folk; locality; nature and culture; orchard; tradition; wassail
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Social Sciences and Global Studies > Geography
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Social Sciences and Global Studies
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 59700
SWORD Depositor: Jisc Publications-Router
Depositing User: Jisc Publications-Router
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2019 10:54
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2019 08:55
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU