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No rest for the nasty apple spirits

Greytown’s apple trees were treated to something special – and ancient – last month, when the Scallyrag Border Morris group brought a wassail to some of the town’s orchards.

“Wassailing is a very old English tradition,” Alison Clements, leader of Scallyrag Border Morris, said.

“It’s kind of honouring the apple trees and persuading them to bear well next year, while threatening them at the same time. It’s a big carrot and stick ceremony, really!”

In the northern hemisphere, wassailing is a winter festival held on or around twelfth night in January.

Greytown’s Festival of Christmas provided Scallyrag Border Morris with the perfect opportunity to introduce a wassail to Wairarapa, Clements said.

Pinehaven, Molewood Orchard and folk music venue, Up Close and Personal, hosted the noisy, colourful – and boozy – ceremony.

“We hit the trees with sticks to wake them up and made lots of noise with saucepans and shouting to scare all the nasty spirits away,” Clements said.

If that wasn’t enough to encourage a bountiful apple harvest, the wassailers poured cider around the roots of the trees and children hung cider-dipped toast in tree branches.

After initial bemusement, onlookers soon got into the spirit of the wassail, Clements said.

With their brightly painted faces, feathered headdresses and steam-punk-inspired outfits, Scallyrags Border Morris are probably not what people imagine when they think of Morris dancers.

“Say the word ‘Morris dancing’ and people immediately think about hankies,” Clements said.

Her flamboyant approach is having a positive impact on the growth of Scallyrags.

“What has intrigued me actually is while most Morris dance sides struggle to recruit, I’m growing exponentially at the moment,” she said.

“I’m sure that’s partly, you know, flushing out all the people who would be in our tribe anyway. But I also think it’s so different from anything Wairarapa has ever seen.

“People are kind of saying, ‘oh, that looks quite fun, can I come and have a go?’.”

As well as waking up apple trees, Scallyrags Border Morris showcased their style of dancing at Cobblestones Fete in July.

“We were unlucky with the weather, but we managed to squeeze in dances between rain showers, and people seemed to enjoy it,” Clements said.

  • Scallyrags Border Morris practise every Tuesday at 7pm at Kuranui College. Contact [email protected] for more information.

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