December 6, 2012 10:15:01 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
"Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year."
-- Traditional Christmas Carol
Two or three at a time, in numbers that might reach 5,000, festival-goers will gather around the Christmas punch bowl Friday for the ninth annual Wassail Fest, presented by Main Street Columbus.
A mixture of both downtown holiday shopping and a beverage contest, the festival -- which will be held from 5-9 p.m. -- has become a favorite event for downtown Columbus.
"We are always looking for creative ideas for downtown shopping and ways to get people downtown," outgoing Main Street Columbus director Amber Brislin said. "We borrowed the idea of the Wassail Fest from other cities, but we have really made it our own through the years. We are excited because we have some new participants signed up this year and many of our veteran wassailers are back for a total of 28 participating businesses"
Estimates from last year's event put the attendance at 5,000. For those unfamiliar with the event, the concept is simple, Brislin said. Patrons are encouraged to taste wassail samples from participating businesses and then cast a vote for their favorite.
"Wassail Fest is easy --you pick up a ballot from one of the vendors," Brislin said. "Then, you vote on your favorite wassail by judging them on a scale of one to five. You have to sample at least eight beverages in order to win door prizes, and drop your ballot off at one of the participating businesses. We will count the ballots and the winner and award the door prizes next Wednesday. Bella Derma was the favorite wassail winner last year. Not only will we will be having Wassail Fest, but we will also be lighting the city's Christmas tree at 6 p.m. next to the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. It's a great night of fun for everyone."
What's A Wassail?
The tradition of wassailing, or gathering together to drink Christmas punch, dates to medieval times. And although a variety of flavors will be available Friday, the roots of the beverage are in a spiced cider.
"Wassail is a hot, mulled drink often related with the holiday season," MUW Culinary Arts Institute Director Erich Ogle said. "Historically, the beverage was a mulled cider mixed with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and topped with slices of toasted bread. Recipes that are more contemporary begin with a base of wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale, and sometimes brandy or sherry is added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix, too. While the beverage characteristically served as wassail at modern holiday feasts with a medieval theme most directly resembles mulled cider, historical wassail drinks were entirely different, more likely to be mulled beer or mead."
Wassail, according to history.org, started to gain popularity in the 1600s when the punch would be shared with a neighbor. The tradition was kept alive in the 1800s through the works of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.
Community gathering with economic impact
While Wassail Fest is a holiday celebration, it is also an opportunity to bolster the local economy.
"Wassail Fest has always been one of my favorite events in Columbus," Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said. "It's such a festive event and it puts everyone in the spirit of Christmas. It's fun to go from place to place and try the wassail. It is also an event that has a definite economic impact on the area."
Brislin said the event is a bittersweet one this year as it will be her last Wassail Fest as the Main Street director. But she said she is glad she is going out on top with one of the largest Wassail Fests to date.
"With this being my sixth Wassail Fest, I am really proud of how this event has grown," Brislin said. "By encouraging all businesses to participate -- not just shops, but restaurants and other type businesses -- we have over doubled the amount of participating businesses, thus growing the event. Wassail Fest in 2007 had only 12 participants and this year we have 28.
"Additionally this year, Magnolia Directory has signed on as a presenting sponsor and is sponsoring the Grand Door Prize- $100 gift certificate to any Main Street member of the winner's choice. Wassail Fest has grown to be one of our largest events. It's great to see hundreds of people fill the streets of downtown Columbus that night. It's also a great time to showcase downtown"
Erich Ogle's Traditional Wassail Recipe
4 small oranges
1 box whole cloves
2 quarts of sweet apple cider
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
20 oz pineapple juice
1-cup fresh orange juice
1/2 stick whole cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Applejack Brandy (Sherry may be substituted)
Sugar to taste
Stud the oranges with cloves and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
In a heavy stockpot, bring cider, fruit juices, and whole cinnamon to a boil.
Add sugar to taste and strain into a heated punch bowl.
Add Applejack, oranges and serve hot.
Serves 15 generously.