Wassailing

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Wassailing

Wassail is an Old English term meaning “to your health”.

Wassailing is one of the oldest traditions and has a huge number of local variations. Its origins are unknown but it is mentioned in texts dating as far back as the 14th century.

In one of these texts, the leader of a group of party goers is described as taking a bowl and, raising it to the assembled crowd, shouting “Wassail!” in the same way one might say “Cheers!’ today.

There are three main types of wassailing. One is the filling of a common bowl or cup often referred to as a Loving Cup and passing it around a room to be shared.

(See illustration right)

Another variation is when a bowl is taken around to individual houses in a village so neighbours can partake as friends.

The third is a celebration of the apple harvest and the blessing of the fruit or trees.

In the earliest known days of the practice, the wassail was poured on to the orchards after harvest as a libation or offering to bless the fields for the coming spring and to ward off evil.

Like many practices devoted to the defence against evil, wassailing has always been seen as a festive activity and has always been associated with partying and making merry.

In the last couple of hundred years Wassailing has been more about good cheer and well wishing than the blessing of the crops although the practise of “tree blessing’ has seen something of a revival in rural areas.(See photograph below) These days it is sometimes accompanied by a bonfire party and the firing of guns.

Wassailing is almost always accompanied by song. “Here we come a-wassailing!” is a Christmas classic which is enjoyed by many but understood by few. (It is so misunderstood that some people sing “here we come a-carolling!” instead).

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The actual ingredients in a traditional wassail bowl are widely disputed. (We have listed two quite different traditional recipes for Wassail in our historic recipes section)

This could be attributed to the fact that festive bands of people who travelled from home to home would often replenish their Wassail bowl with whatever was available.

While one home might offer apple cider or ale another might have mulled wine or even spirits. In our experience, after an hour or two of enthusiastic Wassailing most Wassailers are not particularly picky!

Alcohol definitely played a major part in wassail’s history, but purists say it is not essential. They (somewhat unconvincingly) claim the continuance of the custom has little to do with the drink and is all about the good will and friendship that wassailing generates.

Wassailing, while traditionally observed during the Christmas holiday season, is also practiced at weddings, harvest home and other such events where community and family are celebrated.

Click here for Traditional Wassail Recipes out..

‘Origins of Wassail’ by James Goodwin, Illustrated London News Dec 23 1865

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,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggers
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children
Whom you have seen before
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.

Good master and good mistress,
As you sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who wander in the mire.
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.

We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.
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.

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a cheese,
And of your Christmas loaf.
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.

God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.
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.

Christmas History out.

Christmas Decorations out.

The Glastonbury Thorn out.

Christmas Trees out.

Christmas Cards out.

Christmas Carols out.

How to say Merry Christmas in different languages out.

The Mistletoe Bough out.

The Immaculate Conception out.

Wassailing out.

Festive Music out.

Traditional Christmas Food out.

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