As you prepare for the coming holiday celebrations, why not add a little historic tradition to your celebrations?

Wassail comes from Old English and Norse, meaning “good health,” and the traditional response is “drink hail.”  Wassailing is a centuries-old practice, dating back at least to eighth century, of blessing one another for a good year, or blessing the land, especially orchards, for a good coming harvest.  By the late sixteenth century, the practice had also evolved into groups of youth taking a wassail bowl around the town, begging for wassail, food or money in exchange for singing carols.  These bowls were often became family heirlooms, especially among the wealthy.

The earliest wassail recipes were for a hot spiced ale or beer.  John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597, describes wassail as a spiced ale or cider.   Modern recipes often add wine or other fruit juices, often orange or cranberry juice.

To read more about the tradition and the drink, check out these sites:

A History of the Wassail Bowl by Joanna Crosby, as presented at the Oxford Food Symposium July 2011

Wassailing through History by Robert Doares, from the Colonial Williamsburg website

More Christmas Revels by Maggie Secara, from the Elizabethan Compendium

Wassail from Wikipedia