Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Love and Joy Come to You, And To Your Wassail Too...

Few holiday traditions have endured so long or seen so many variations as that of wassailing. Its origins are unknown but it is mentioned in texts dating as far back as the 14th century. In one such text, the leader of a group took a bowl and, raising it to the crowd, shouted “Wassail!” an Old English term meaning “to your health”.

There are three variations of the wassailing. One is the filling of a common bowl or cup often referred to by ancient clergy as the Loving Cup and passing it around a room to be shared. Another variation calls for taking the bowl around to each individual house so neighbours can partake as friends. And the third is a celebration of the apple harvest and the blessing of the fruit.

In the earliest known days of the practice, the wassail was poured on to the dormant crops and orchards after harvest to bless them for the coming spring and to ward off evil. Like many such practices devoted to the defense against evil, wassailing has always been a more festive activity associated with partying and making merry. In the last couple of hundred years the practice has been more about good cheer and well wishing than the blessing of the crops.

Wassailing is almost always accompanied by song. “Here we come a-wassailing…” is a Christmas classic beloved by many but understood by few. (It’s so misunderstood that some sing “Here we come a-carolling…” instead).

The actual ingredients in traditional wassail are widely disputed. This could be attributed to the fact festive bands of people who travelled from home to home often replenished the bowl with whatever liquid refreshment was available. While one home might have apple cider another might have spirits of a stronger sort. Alcohol had no doubt played a storied part of wassail’s history, but traditional does not dictate it to be necessary. In fact, the custom has little to do with the drink at all than it does the goodwill and society that wassailing generates.

Wassail is perfect for carollers trudging up to your doorstep in the snow, young voices raised untunefully, giving you the compliments of the season. Unfortunately, of course, I've never had a white Christmas or serenaded anyone in the snow. Or made a snowman. Or had red mittens.

But I did make a few batches of wassail and pour it into ornamental bottles.

Love and joy come to you
And to your wassail too
And God bless you and send you a
Happy New Year
and God send you
a Happy New Year.

3/4 cup sugar
2 quarts apple juice
1 pint cranberry juice
1 teaspoon aromatic bitters
1 cup rum
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 small orange, studded with cloves


Dissolve sugar in juices in crockpot. Add remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 1 hour. Simmer on low for 4 to 8 hours.

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