[wos-uhl, -eyl, was-, wo-seyl]

Wassail is a hot, spiced punch often associated with Christmas. Particularly popular in Germanic countries, the term itself is a contraction of the Anglo-Saxon term, wæs hæil, meaning, "Be healthy".

History of the drink

While the beverage typically served as "wassail" at modern holiday feasts with a medieval theme most closely resembles mulled cider, historical wassail was completely different, more likely to be mulled beer or mead. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops.

Hence the first stanza of the traditional carol the Gloucestershire Wassail dating back to the Middle Ages:

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

At Carhampton, near Minehead, the Apple Wassailing is held on the Old Twelfth Night (17 January). The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings, the following being the last verse:

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs.


Bladey, Conrad, Jay,(2--2) "Do the Wassail", Hutman Productions, Linthicum,ISBN 0970238673. Gayre, G.R. (1948). Wassail! In Mazers of Mead. Pub. Phillimore & Co.Ltd. London.

British Pubs named 'Pig and Whistle'

The Norse word for Barley was 'byg', as in modern Danish. This terminology still persists in areas of Britain formerly part of the 'Danelaw', for example the 'Bigg Market' in Newcastle on Tyne, the former barley market. Today many British pubs are still named 'Pig and Whistle' which is a corruption of the name of an early Medieval feast known as the 'Byggen Wassail' celebrated at the end of the barley harvest, malted barley being the main ingredient of ale.

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