Rings of orange and lemon afloat, the wassail bowl filled with spiced wine or ale is a tradition that goes back a thousand years and more.
These days a wassail is a party, but, in centuries past wassailing mainly involved people singing carols from door-to-door, such as "Here We Come a Wassailing" or "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Sound familiar?
The carolers would carry a bowl of wassail, which was a hot mulled wine or some kind of warm, apple-based beverage. Often people floated a piece of toasted bread on top of the steaming wassail, which was the origin of our modern-day expression "I would like to propose a toast."
When carolers entered a home they would sing, share the wassail and receive eats and drinks themselves (such as plum pudding or shepherd's pie), at which time toasts for a merry Christmas and happy tidings for a new year would be exchanged by all.
The wassail-a centuries old tradition from Great Britain-is a joy-filled party celebrating the Winter Solstice, Christmastime and happy tidings. Indeed, many of the traditions of this likeable event are the originators of well-known seasonal classics (like caroling, for one).
The word wassail itself comes from the old Norse "ves heill," which literally means "be healthy." It is a toast of goodwill and is at the heart of what wassailing is all about.
"Welcome everything! Welcome all alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places around the Christmas fire, where what is sits." ~Charles Dickens
Today, wassails are still held in homes or as public celebrations in many countries throughout the world, such as Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. The celebrations can be as simple as gathering some friends for hot cider to more elaborate celebrations involving the production of short plays (called mummer plays) or caroling through apple orchards.
Here We Come A Wassailing
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.
Wassail - What is it? Here's Webster's definition:
1: an early English toast to someone's health
2: a hot drink that is made with wine, beer, or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples and traditionally served in a large bowl especially at Christmastime.
3: riotous drinking : revelry
To host your own wassail:
Invite friends and family to share the occasion. Dress up the house for a festive holiday occasion.
Serve a warm beverage, such as spiced apple cider, mulled wine or the like, from a bowl. This is a must! Otherwise, it's not really a wassail. Serve food that's warm and hearty, like beef pot pie or warm potato wedges with bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings. Christmas pudding or any kind of spice cake or pound cake should do nicely for dessert.
Play festive Christmas music in the background. (Or, better yet, sing along with carols if so inclined.)
Partake in games that involve teams of players, like charades, Cranium, Pictionary or Taboo.
The object is simply to have a good time and share the joy of the season!