“Wassail” originates in the Old Norse drinking salutation “Ves heil” (“Be well”) of over 1,000 years ago. Centuries later, Wassailing was popularized in Old England as a seasonal singing ritual to ensure a good cider apple harvest. Eventually, wassailing evolved into a tradition of Twelfth Night. The hot wassail drink has since become popularly associated with winter holidays.
Origins & Traditions
For those familiar with the Christian holidays, you may be familiar with the carol - “Here We Come A-Wassailing.”
The tradition of Wassail started in Europe in Old England. Wassailing was originally the activity of the fall cider apple harvest, where men would collect the apples and women would press the juice for use through the winter months. The children would enjoy something akin to a local festival celebratory atmosphere as the adults worked. The juice was converted to a cider or mixed with mead for an enjoyable adult beverage and stored in barrels. Centuries later, the Wassail Bowl (pictured above) became a mainstay of the 12th Night celebration, marking the twelfth day of Christmas. Moving forward another couple of hundred years, around the holidays people would go from house to house singing songs, carrying a large iron kettle. The tradition was that each household would add something to the kettle and, thereby, create a unique drink. The ingredients most often included fruits, ciders, mulled wine, and beer. The liquid ingredients were added hot to help the carolers stay warm as they continued along their song-singing journey. The mixture never ended up the same way twice and even in my own family we all maintain different recipes. You may be familiar with some Christmas songs that commemorate this activity.
So, let us answer some questions you may have: (Most of you will know the questions we're answering.)
- Ours does not, but you CAN add some if you want. (See, we told you. And you’re probably smiling right about now. That’s OK, Wassail is supposed to make you feel happy!)
- We prefer it just as we have prepared it, but for those who want, most people would add Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, Tequila or Vodka.
- We can’t tell you that. It's a family secret. However, the secret ingredient is Love!
- We highly recommend that wassail be served hot! It can easily be heated in a microwave, but we prefer to simmer it on the stove, as it adds a great holiday smell to the home.
- Wassail is not just a holiday drink; it should be enjoyed throughout the cold-weather months. It can even be drunk throughout the entire year any time you feel a little under the weather.