Here We Come A-Wassailing!

I was singing a Christmas carol to myself and realized- Hey, this has whiskey in it! Or, at least, it CAN have whiskey in it…

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
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Wassail (Old Norse “ves heil”, Old English was hál, literally ‘be you healthy’) was a hot mulled apple cider drink that has origins in medieval England. It was drunk ritually during the Yule season (midwinter) to ensure a good apple harvest. The Norse and Germanic people celebrated the midwinter festival of Yule, which predated Christianity. (The Yule-tide season lasted from late November to early January.) The purpose of wassailing during Yule was to promote fertility of fruit and livestock. Yule-tide was later adapted by Christians to Christmas-tide, and the celebrations of fertility turned to celebrations of health and wealth.

Wassailing in the 17th and 18th centuries saw people making their way from house to house through the streets of England with the warm drink. The image we might have today was created by writers like Charles Dickens and Washington Irving. Wassail is drunk from a wassailing bowl usually made of wood, though very ornate bowls have been made from stone, precious metals or pewter. The next stanza of the song goes…

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.
(Repeat Refrain)

Early versions of wassail were actually made with warmed mead in which roasted crab-apples would soak. It was also made from ale, mulled wine and mulled cider. Traditionally, wassail was served in celebration of the 12th night festival. The 12 days of Christmas from Dec 25th to Jan 5th would mark the coming of the Epiphany. We all know that song…On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Speaking of carols, the whole notion of caroling was derived from the singing of songs and dancing to the celebrations associated with the winter solstice! So going a-wassailing and going caroling are very much related.

Here is a recipe for wassail that incorporates whiskey into the mix…

Christmas and whiskey always pair so well.

17th century wassail bowl
17th century wassail bowl
Decorated wassail bowl
Decorated wassail bowl