Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas Countdown Day 10

Christmas Countdown Day 10

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 send you a happy New Year.

OK, there are several Wassail songs about, and they are often heard at this festive time of year, but  what is a wassail, and how would you go wassailing?

There seem to be two main types of wassailing, one has evolved into a festival to bless the cider apple orchards in southern England, the other has developed into what we would now call carol singing.

The term wassail derives from the old Saxon words waes hael which translates roughly as, be healthy.
So it is a toast to good health

In the cider producing counties of southern England, wassail refers to a mulled cider, a hot, spiced, sweetened cider which has pieces of toast floating on top. The wassail cider is carried from orchard to orchard, often by a wassail king and queen, and is used to bless the apple trees in the hope of a good harvest. The toast from the wassail cup is placed into the boughs of the apple trees, sometimes by teh wassail queen, sometimes by a small boy. The customs vary from region to region. These blessings are often carried out between New Year and Twelfth Night (and are often extended to 16-17 January, the old Twelfth Night on the Julian calendar).

Twelfth Night was traditionally the time for parties and celebrations, with Christmas Day reserved for religious observation. Everything has become mixed up and condensed these days, so much of what was celebrated at Twelfth Night is now part of Christmas. In the Royal Court, plays and masques were often performed on Twelfth Night, and that's the time of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was first performed for Queen Elizabeth I. 

The other type of wassail, which is the origin of carol singing door to door, evolved from the custom of peasants visiting the home of the Lord of the Manor, singing songs and asking (not begging) for food and drink. Think of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which dates back to the 16th century, where the singers bring glad tidings and call for 'figgy pudding'.

So there you have it! Wassail is a toast to good health and a spiced hot cider; wassailing is a blessing to apple trees and an early form of carol singing. 


  1. Hi Andy,

    ooh, I'm first here!! The sun comes up so early in Qld so I have been awake at 5 am each morning.

    I'm really enjoying hearing about the history of our traditions, I always wonder where they evolved from. I wonder often about Bon Bons or Crackers? It's not Christmas with out them but where did they begin and why do have those silly jokes in them??

    Fi xx

    1. Is there really a 5am!!!!? I thought people were joking!

      Now I did post about Christmas crackers last year, but I will do a new post in the next few days (I am running low on ideas for new posts!!) - ah yes, the cracker joke 'What do polar bears like to eat?... Arctic Roll' - 'Where do Santa's Helpers go when they are sick?... The National Elf Service!' Christmas just wouldn't be the same with out them!

    2. You know Andy, I new you had done a post about Christmas Crackers as I was writing it, but it just goes to show I have a brain like a sieve, I just couldn't remember the meaning behind the cracker.

      Why did the Turkey cross the road?
      Because he wasn't Chicken.

      And yes Andy, the sun is well and truly up at 5am here, the first morning I was awake at 4 watching a little gecko scuttle around on the wall out side. It was so HOT I couldn't go back to sleep so I went and sat out side and watched the day come to life. I supposed your all wrapped up in your woolies now.....what a stark contrast.

      ML Fi xx

  2. Andy, I agree with Fi! You have so many traditions in your country, I don't know much about it. I am eager to learn more. Thank you for sharing all this information!
    Hugs, Ilona

    1. Hello Ilona,

      I hope these little Christmas posts give a slight flavour of all that goes on over Christmas here in the UK. Pleased you are enjoying them!

  3. I think it is fascinating how different the customs can be even within a small region! And of course, they change.... even though we wish they would stay the same as they were at some magical point in the distant past..... or our youth... whichever has the best memories perhaps! We don't have wassailing over here... but we have lots of caroling... but not always from door to door. Sometimes the groups gather where people are shopping... or on a town green. Not necessarily the same as going to your neighbors...!

    1. Hi Betsy,

      Yes, we tend to have more group carol singing than door to door singers these days too, in fact there is the annual carol concert on the village green outside our house next Friday (sadly I will be at work that evening!).

      pleased you liked this post!

  4. Hi Andy,
    I have been enjoying your Christmas posts--what a nice thing for you to do for us. I love caroling and drinking hot, spiced cider of course!
    Keep posting.

    1. Hi Iris, good to hear from you, hope life has calmed down a little with you! Well, I tend to go for a nice mulled wine usually, but I am sure mulled cider is very tasty too!

  5. I put up my RL christmas tree over the weekend - your posts are really helping to get into the christmas spirit, which can be a bit lacking!

    I do miss the carol singing back in Blighty - they don't do that here sadly, and I can't get my hands on a jar of mincemeat for love nor money!

    Sadly I'll just have to put up with foie gras!

    Keep posting, your christmas series is fantastic, thanks for making the effort!


    1. Hi Jonquil, I am pleased you are enjoying these Christmas posts. I also put up my Christmas trees over the weekend! and the house does feel much more festive and glittery as a result, perfect for Christmas!

      Now if you are anywhere near Paris I think you could get Mincemeat in Marks and Spencer there, as they re-opened in the French capital recently. If you can't get mincemeat in M&S then ready-made 'le mincepie' must surely be tucked away on the shelves somewhere!! I have been asked by John for a mince pie recipe, so will be posting about these peculiar treats later on! I'll include a mincemeat recipe!

      Foie Gras! I saw tonnes of that in Fortnum's recently, but I don't like it myself! Hope you enjoy it!!

  6. Gaia nd and who are upstairs think it's time for some mulled cider. Would you like to join us? Or perhaps you'd prefer a nice peppermint tea. Waes Haele!!!!

    D and G (that well known brand of perfume!)

  7. Enjoying your Christmas posts Andy, keep up the good work!

  8. Hello Andy,
    Not only do i love your posts because they are fun, have beautiful pictures, and they put me in the Christmas spirit, but I always learn something from you each and every time. I really adore your blog.
    Big hug,

  9. How you find the time to create all these interesting posts is a mystery to me! There are a few things in this post that I didn't know so thank you for taking the time to do this.