Did you know there are competitions for making serving vessel wassail bowls? Learn more at Stewart King’s site. The bowls carried by those who went wassailing were no doubt a bit more simple, especially when it was the peasant class.
Lyrics posted here are from various songs sang while wassailing.
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.
The song is a bit confusing for some. The “ale” may have been a different drink, not actually the wassail songsters have sung about given to them by homeowners they “wassail-ed.” The recipe for that wassail probably varied quite a bit.
Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in an old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny
A hapenny will do
If you haven’t got a hapenny
Then God bless you
Similar to caroling, but some warm wassail was often expected from those who were sung to: often alcoholic. It goes back to at least feudal days when peasants would “wassail” the gentry or nobility. It was permitted because it wasn’t considered begging. The beverage: wassail, was often served to the those who were wassailing. The word, “wassail,” may have been partially derived from the Old Norse ‘Ves heill,” from the Old English salutation “Wes Hal,” meaning “Be In Good Health.”
There was also wassailing that involved singing the orchards to chase away evil spirits and wake up the trees so that there might be better harvests in the future. Apples were an important part of the economy in some villages. One assumes, since they were trees, no beverage was served by the objects of the wassailing. Probably dating back to pre-Christian, pagan, practices: and most likely absorbed when many pagan practices and dates were modified by the church: pre-Protestant times. This aspect to wassailing involves not only singing but banging on pot lids and even firing off guns. While this aspect to wassailing is still practiced somewhat in England, it doesn’t seem to have been adopted by their cousins across the big pond, or the NRA. So your trees are safe for now, or bearing less fruit than they could, depending on your point of view. Birds beware. A no fly by policy is suggested during this form of wassailing.
If you walk into your local brewpub and have a “Wassail,” or buy a micro product called “Wassail,” it may be grand: but if it’s just a spiced ale it may be somewhat historically inaccurate.
Back when fermentation wasn’t understood, and no one told those who made wassail that beer was just “hops, yeast, water and barley” there were about as many versions of wassail as there were people serving it. A lot of wassail was served warm, so it is doubtful that that hot wassail had much beer in it, if any at all. Often it was a mix of fruit juices, wine, spices; amongst many ingredients.
Some wassail would have been a bit closer to what is referred to now by some homebrewers as “cyser.” There are various spellings including, but not limited to, “ciser,” “siser” and “sicer.” (In competition it is usually placed in a Melomel category.) Cyser is fermented apple cider but a cider which has pretty much all of the apple left in: not filtered, often not pasteurized. One source referred to it as…
“A mulled cider type drink, Wassail is a holiday tradition in many countries. This hot, spiced punch is most popular at Christmas. It usually contains fruit juices, cinnamon, cloves and other spices.”
So, this season…
“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 bless you and send you
a Happy New Year”