We’ve all heard “wassailing” in some of the old Christmas songs. And you probably have an awareness (vague or otherwise) of wassail being a drink. But if you’re anything like me (before I had to research it for a book a few years ago), that’s the extent of your knowledge. 😉 Which of course makes it a perfect Word of the Week during this Advent season!
Wassail is from the Old Norse ves heill, which literally means “be healthy.” It was first a salutation and then became a sort of drinking salute among the Danes in England, which then spread to the natives. But 1300, it wasn’t only something one said while lifting a glass, but also what was in the glass–particularly spiced ale that was served on Christmas Eve.
By 1600, it had taken on a bit of a “carousing” meaning, which then extended by 1742 to the practice of going house to house on Christmas Eve, caroling and offering the traditional spiced drink. In Colonial America, wassail was traditionally sold by the poor to the rich–an excuse for them to come in and see how the other half lived, and a way for the rich to give alms to the poor.
So this season, if you lift you glass in salute (whatever might be in it), try saying “Wassail!” and see if anyone understands, LOL.
I love Wassail! One of my brothers used to make it it every Christmas for our family Christmas. He's passed away now, so, no one else makes sit.