Woodstock’s Wassail Weekend presents a picture-perfect Christmas in a long pandemic

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    Julie Piontkowski, of Moodus, Conn., right, climbs up for a horse-drawn wagon ride ahead of her friend Bubbles DuBeau, of Willimantic, Conn., middle, and husband John Piontowski, left, during Wassail Weekend festivities in Woodstock, Vt., on Saturday Dec. 11, 2021. DuBeau said they make the trip every year, and their spirits weren't dampened by the "liquid sunshine." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

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    As he has for more than 20 years, Ham Gillett, of Windsor, reads "A Child's Christmas in Wales," by Dylan Thomas, at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vt., as part of Wassail Weekend, on Saturday Dec. 11, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mia Libiszewski, of Ludlow, Mass., leans in for a view of the approaching horses as the Wassail Parade makes its way through Woodstock Village, Vt., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Morgan Brown, of Canaan, middle, kisses Figgy, ridden by Hannah Kierstead, of Canaan, right, as they prepare for the Wassail Parade in Woodstock, Vt., on Saturday Dec. 11, 2021. It was Figgy's first time participating in the parade. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2021 9:25:06 PM
Modified: 12/11/2021 9:24:29 PM

Ken Shepherd came to hear tubas — there were none — but he stayed for the parade.

Shepherd, a graduate student studying physics at University of Vermont, had driven down from Burlington with his girlfriend, Briana Graham, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Rutland, to attend Woodstock’s annual Christmas-themed Wassail Weekend because, as a tuba player back in his hometown of Reno, Nev., his band would perform Here We Come A-wassailing in public during the holidays.

Where there is wassail there would be tubas, their theory went.

Alas, no tubas. But Shepherd was still glad they made the trek.

“I was able to buy a gallon of maple syrup for $48 at the craft fair at the Masonic Lodge,” he explained, pointing down to a plastic jug with the words “Vermont Maple Syrup” printed on it. “Normally this would cost $65 to $70.”

Shepherd and Graham were among the thousands who weren’t deterred by a morning of whipping ice-cold rain and puddles of dirty, slushy snow to attend Saturday’s portion of Woodstock’s three-day Wassail Weekend. It presents as a Disney-like rendition of how Christmas is celebrated in a small Vermont town, but in truth it’s a production put on by business community to boost shop sales and fill the area’s hotels and restaurants.

“Wassail is our biggest event for Woodstock,” said Beth Finlayson, head of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the schedule of horse-drawn carriage rides, craft workshops, story readings, caroling, musical performances, theater performances, Santa appearances, Christmas movies and a parade. “Since October you haven’t been able to get a room here.”

Wassail Weekend in past years when the weather has been sunny and nice has attracted more than 5,000 people, and given that last year’s event was largely curtailed due to the pandemic — most events were scrapped and the parade moved online — organizers were again expecting a robust turnout despite Saturday’s wet, raw chill and icy road conditions that made it a perfect day for sitting by the fire roasting chestnuts.

The titular wassail, a hot mulled cider drink with a shot of bourbon in it, arrived at 11:36 a.m. in three bright orange, 10-gallon Rubbermaid coolers. Prepared by the kitchen staff at the Woodstock Inn, the toasty drink quickly drew a line of customers willing to spend $15 per cup. Finlayson said they had “thousands” of cups to meet the demand.

Distance was not a detriment for some.

Maria Baptista, a nurse, and her 16-year-old daughter, Tatiana, traveled to Woodstock from Coconut Creek, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, because they’re “avid fans of Hallmark Christmas movies.” Baptista said she “researched” where she and her daughter could visit that would reflect the picturesque image of a New England town at Christmas

“I heard Woodstock is that kind of town,” Baptista said while she and her daughter were waiting in line for the horse-drawn carriage ride in front of the Norman Williams Public Library across from the Green.

“I love it. I want to move here,” Tatiana said, noting that her and her mother’s visit to Stowe before arriving in the Upper Valley on Friday was the first time she had ever seen snow.

Baptista said they “sneaked into” the Woodstock Inn and Resort to take a look and were suitably impressed.

Carolyn and John Boscia, of Shelburne, Vt., checking out the food vendors on the Green with their three children — Anne, 7; Claire, 4; and Josie, 1, snug in a stroller — said they’ve been coming to Woodstock for Wassail Weekend every year with their family since Carolyn was pregnant with Anne.

“This is our eighth,” she said. “We love it. It’s the epitome of Christmas.”

Anne said her favorite part was the “horse parade” and Claire, with some interpretation assistance from her mom, said she liked best “watching Christmas movies” with her family in the hotel room.

John Lippman can be contacted at jlippman@vnews.com.




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