What is Wassail?
Wassail is a spiced cider traditionally served during the winter holidays. This nonalcoholic version, flavored with cloves, apples, cinnamon, lemon, orange, ginger, and nutmeg, is especially good when sipped by candlelight on a cool winter night. You could certainly add alcohol if you wish by adding a splash of brandy, bourbon, rum, or whiskey, to taste.
Where Did This Drink Originate?
Wassailing is an old custom that’s not often done today. The term “wassail” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’ meaning “good health.” Originally, this delicious mixture was a hot drink made from mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, and sugar. It was served in huge bowls made of silver or pewter. Wassailing was traditionally done on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night, but some rich people drank it on all twelve days of Christmas! The drink mixture was also known as “lamb’s wool” because it looked frothy like lambs’ wool.
The wassailing tradition falls into two distinct categories: house-visiting wassailing and orchard-visiting wassailing. The house-visiting wassail is the practice of going door-to-door and offering a drink from a special bowl in exchange for gifts; this tradition still exists, but has largely been displaced by caroling.
The orchard-visiting wassail takes place on Twelfth Night (New Year’s Eve). Villagers go into orchards and sing, make loud noises, and dance around to scare off evil spirits and also to ‘wake up’ the trees, so they will give a good crop. They also place pieces of toast soaked in beer or cider into the boughs of trees to feed and thank the trees for giving apples. That’s where our custom of ‘toasting’ people with a drink comes from!
Why I Love this Yule Beverage
Ah, Yule—a time of year that resonates deeply with my soul. The earth is quiet, blanketed in snow, and the air is crisp with the scent of evergreens. It’s a season that calls us to gather around the hearth, to celebrate the returning light, and to share in the ancient traditions that connect us to the earth and to each other. And what better way to honor this sacred time than with a cup of Wassail?
For me, Wassail is more than just a drink; it’s a potion steeped in history and folklore, a liquid embodiment of Yule’s magic. The blend of apple cider, aromatic spices, and a touch of spirits (optional) warms you from the inside out, like a hug from an old friend. Each sip is a reminder of the cycles of nature—the apple harvest, the spice trade routes that connected distant lands, and the communal celebrations that have marked this time of year for centuries.
But what I love most about Wassail is its power to bring people together. Whether it’s a quiet evening with family or a boisterous gathering with friends, serving Wassail sets the stage for a night of storytelling, laughter, and heartfelt conversations. It’s as if the drink itself whispers to us, urging us to slow down, to savor the moment, and to cherish the connections we have, both old and new.
So, as you lift your cup this Yule, know that you’re partaking in a tradition as old as time, and let the spirit of Wassail fill you with joy, gratitude, and a deep sense of belonging.
- 2 apples
- 8 cups apple cider
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 15 whole cloves or ½ tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 Tablespoon light brown sugar optional
- Stick cloves into the apples on all sides.
- Add all of the ingredients—including the apples—to a large pot and stir gently over low heat.
- Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
- Remove the apples and whole cloves. Ladle into mugs and enjoy!
More to explore
If you’re gearing up for a Yuletide gathering or simply want to infuse your home with the spirit of the season, you’ve got to try this delicious Yule recipe. It’s not just festive—it’s a symphony of seasonal flavors that’s a breeze to whip up! But don’t stop there; the magic of Yuletide is waiting to be explored. Dive into our treasure trove of articles for more enchanting recipes and ways to celebrate this special time of year. Here are a few of our favorites:
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