What was Wassailing?


We often hear an old song at Christmas, “Here we come A-wassailing.” So what does this mean?

In Old English, the word wassail meant “be you healthy.”

Wassail were warm mulled drinks. The beverages became “mulled” when heated with spices and some type of sweetener. Early drinks were made with mead, where ale was sweetened with honey and then brewed. Crab apples were roasted and then added to the mead to create lambswool, a beverage. Folks drank lambswool to celebrate the wheat harvest on Lammas Day, an event observed by the English in August.

crabapple-193676_960_720Wassail later was made with mulled cider, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sugar. Toasted bread topped the drinks served in a large bowl shared by everyone.

Wassailing referred to the tradition of caroling, with folks singing Christmas carols to neighbors. They brought greetings of the season as well as wishes for good health.

Generosity abounded at Christmas, at least in the hearts of some of the wealthier English citizens. Orphans and beggars often traveled snowy roads to knock on doors. They offered to sing of good cheer for a drink from the owner’s wassail bowl.

open-fire-885860_960_720They also hoped for a pork pie or an invitation to warm themselves around the fire.

The song also mentions their need of money: “We have got a little purse of stretching leather skin; We want a little of your money to line it well within.” The orphans hoped for pennies.

A hot drink on a cold winter’s night warmed the carolers’ spirits just as their songs cheered the listeners.

“Love and joy come to you”—Merry Christmas!

-Sandra Merville Hart



“Here We Come A-Wassailing,” Wikipedia, 2016/10/19 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_We_Come_A-wassailing.

“Wassail,” Wikipedia, 2016/10/19 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassail.