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Wassail is a hot, spiced punch often associated with Christmas. Particularly popular in Germanic countries, the term itself is a contraction of the Middle English phrase wæs hæil, meaning "be healthy". The origins of the practice of wassailing are closely connected with the history of the wassail.

History of the drink

While the beverage typically served as "wassail" at modern holiday feasts with a medieval theme most closely resembles mulled cider, historical wassail drinks were completely different, more likely to be mull beer or mead. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops.

Hence the first stanza of the traditional carol the Gloucestershire Wassail dating back to the Middle Ages:
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.


At Carhampton, near Mineheadmarker, the Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on the Old Twelfth Night (17 January). The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings, the following being the last verse:
Old Apple tree, old apple tree;

We've come to wassail thee;

To bear and to bow apples enow;

Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;

Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs.


Culture

This drink would be the equivalent to beer or wine in many of the more prominent and better-known cultures of today. People drank it at parties and was the main ale of the day. "Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best/... please god send our master a good cask of ale..." sang throughout the towns of the germanic nations, sending good luck to even one's own master in the new year.

Bibliography

Bladey, Conrad, Jay,(2--2) "Do the Wassail", Hutman Productions, Linthicum,ISBN 0970238673.Gayre, G.R. (1948). Wassail! In Mazers of Mead. Pub. Phillimore & Co.Ltd. London.

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