Horses are the Stars of the WASSAIL WEEKEND in Woodstock, Vermont.

Published Winter 2012

For 26 years Woodstock, Vermont, has celebrated the winter solstice with a Wassail Weekend. The village voted “prettiest in America” is tucked in the middle of Vermont horse country, with beautiful shops, restaurants, and galleries filled with equestrian and sporting art. A Rockefeller homestead, now a national park, overlooks the village. The town has carefully preserved its heritage — a large portion of the village is included in a protected historic district. Many of these beautiful, finely preserved homes are open for self-guided tours during the wassail festivities. The houses are decorated for the season and provide a glimpse into Vermont Christmas past.

The highlight of the weekend is a unique wassail parade through the center of town with over 50 horses, riders, and carriages decked out in holiday costumes and period dress from the early 19th century. The Green Mountain Horse Association and High Horses Therapeutic Riding work together to organize participants as they assemble to parade down the decorated Main Street past the village green. “We brainstorm new costume ideas each year, then work together making them. It’s a great festive activity for the entire horse community,” explains Jamie Fields of Hartland, Vermont.

Emily and Jamie Fields, Phoebe Novello and Sue Greenall pose in their snowman outfits.

Dressed formally in a tuxeudo and on roller skates, Bill Luth has pulled “clean-up duty” at the rear of many years of parades.

Victorian-era dress is the recurring theme of the day.

The green fills with people eating, drinking, and singing around a huge bonfire as the horses pass by. Onlookers cheer for their favorite team, and judges choose the costume winners for the year. Shops along the street are also decorated, with open doors, music spilling out into the streets, and holiday wares inside. “I don’t know of anything else like it in America,” says spectator Kim Macey from Newtown, Connecticut. “It’s well worth a trip to Vermont this holiday season.”

The name wassail has its roots in a Danish phrase introduced to England during Saxon times — ves heill, meaning “to drink to the health.” In those days, when singers went door to door caroling during the solstice, they were given a warm ale, known as wassail, brewed with spiced apples and sugar.