We Go Awassailing
wassail all over the town
Our bread it is white, and our ale it is brown
Our bowl It is made of the maple tree
So here, my good fellow, I'll drink to thee.
is a very ancient custom that is rarely done today. The custom predates
the Battle of Hastings in England. However, historians believe its
origins date to Ancient Rome, where people would make sacrifices to the
Pomona, the Roman Goddess of Fruits. The word Wassail originates from
the Anglo-Saxon waes-hael, meaning “to your health.”
the wassail was a drink, made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted
apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar, served from huge bowls.
Wassailing was traditionally done on New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night,
but some rich people drank Wassail on all the 12 days of Christmas! The
Wassail drink mixture was sometimes called 'Lamb's Wool', because of the
pulp of the roasted apples looked all frothy and a bit like Lambs Wool!
One legend about how Wassailing was created, says that a beautiful Saxon
maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while
toasting him with the words "waes hael." Over the centuries, a
great deal of ceremony developed around the custom of drinking wassail.
Merrymakers carried the wassail bowl into a room with a great fanfare
while singing a traditional carol about the drink, and finally, they
served the steaming hot beverage.
wassail bowl, itself, was a monstrous thing. No ordinary cup would do
for such a grand ritual. The oldest and grandest were those turned from
a hard wood, but wassail bowls could also be made of pottery, silver,
tin, or pewter. Jesus College, in Oxford University, has a Wassail bowl
sheathed in Sterling silver that can hold 10 gallons of drink! These
bowls often had many handles for shared drinking and highly decorated
Oliver Cromwell prohibited Christmas and its associated celebrations
under his Puritanic rule, but the 1660 Restoration marked a resurgence
of festive celebrations. As a result, many wassail bowls and cups that
survive today date from the last four decades of the 17th century, when
“old world” customs and trappings came back into fashion.
first wassail bowls and cups made from Lignum vitae appear to have been
made in Britain in the second quarter of the 17th century. The use of
this material seems closely related the huge expansion of Britain’s
colonial power and trade during that century.
Lignum vitae is the hardest and heaviest of commercial woods. It was
traditionally used in shipbuilding and making police truncheons and
bowling balls. Because of its toughness it was particularly suited for
holding hot liquids.
Traditionally, Lignum vitae also boasts medicinal properties and was
imported to Europe from the 16th century as a remedy for a range of
ailments, from gout to syphillis. Although some surviving wassail bowls
are ceramic or made from maple wood, one can see how the idea of
drinking from a bowl or cup made from a material that promised good
health for the year ahead would have been especially appealing during
the centuries when life expectancy was lower than today, and health care
for all but the wealthy was reliant on traditional remedies.
wassailing bowl, toast within
Come, fill it up unto the brim
Come fill it up that we may all see
The wassailing bowl I’ll drink to thee.
Come, butler, come bring as a bowl of your best
And we hope your soul in heaven shall rest.
But if you do bring us a howl of your small
Then down shall go butler and bowl and all.
Wassail is a hot, mulled punch often associated with Yuletide, drunk
from a 'wassail bowl'. The earliest versions were warmed mead into which
roasted crab apples were dropped and burst to create a drink called "lambswool"
drunk on Lammas day, still known in Shakespeare's time. Later, the drink
evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and
nutmeg, topped with slices of toast as sops and drunk from a large
Apples or oranges are often added to the mix, and some recipes also call
for beaten eggs to be tempered into the drink. Great bowls turned from
wood, pottery or tin often had many handles for shared drinking and
highly decorated lids; antique examples can still be found in
Recipe for Wassail
4 to 6 apples
3 liters of good cider
6 cinnamon sticks
dark rum, to taste
soft dark brown sugar, to taste
around 500ml of water
Prepare the apples; cut around them a circle halfway down, this
stops them bursting when cooking, place on a tray and bake in a
moderate oven until they have begun to collapse, around 30
minutes. Whilst you wait for the oven to do its job, pour the
cider into a large pan with the cinnamon stick, at least 3
generous tablespoons of sugar and 250ml of rum and half of the
water. Bring to a simmer and add more sugar and rum, and dilute
accordingly with more water. Lastly, for tradition’s sake, atop
with slices of toast.
The English word wassail` comes from the Middle English phrase "wes
heil,” which means "be whole" or "be healthy." The contemporary
English word "hale," meaning sound, health or vigorous. evolved
from the second word in this phrase. Medieval Britons toasted each other
with the cry, "Wes heil!" the proper open response was "Drine
heil!" meaning "drink wholeness" or "drink health" The phrase first
appears in this context in a 12th-century document.
14th-century document reveals that in that era the toast "wes heil"
accompanied the passing of a communal cup. Each person in the gathering
received the cup along with a kiss, responded, "Drine Heil,"
sipped !rev tare vessel, toasted the next person, and passed the cup to
them. A document dating from the 13th century mentions a special wassail
howl designed for communal dunking of bread and cakes. In the end of the
14th century, many wealthy English families possessed heirloom wassail
bowls. Much ceremony often accompanied the use of these bowls. In the
12th century, when King Venn VI called for his wassail howl on Twelfth
Night, he and his court observed the following ritual. The chapel choir
came into the hall and stood to one side. Next, the steward entered the
hall with the royal bowl and cried "Wassail" three times. Then the choir
burst into song.
evidence suggests that sometime in the 16th century common folk began
carrying wassail bowls from house to house during the Christmas season.
They gamished the bowl wilh decorations such as ribbons, holly,
mistletoe or other greenery, and colored paper. Crying, "Wassail,
wassail," they brought the decorated bowl full of spiced ale to their
well off neighbors, hoping to exchange a cup of Christmas ale for a gift
of food or a tip. Hence, the groups were called “wassailers;” and the
custom itself, "wassailing." In another variant of this custom, the
wassailers carried an empty bowl to their neighbors, bidding the
householders fill it up for them. Some researchers believe that women
upheld this tradition more frequently than men.
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