Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.

Growing up, I often heard the traditional carol about wassailing sung with caroling in place of the unfamiliar word, leading me to think that wassail was just another word for going around, singing carols to the neighborhood. Makes sense, right? When in actuality, wassail (originally was hál in the Old English) translates to “be in good health/fortunate” and is more like a toast than a song.

Of course, there’s also a drink by that name that has roots in the ancient Roman drink of spiced wine known as hypocras. In the Middle Ages the wine and the spices used in it made it a drink for the elite rather than the masses, until beer and other spirits came into the mix, making it more of an everyman drink. During the revelry of the holidays the practice of sharing a bowl (literally, a large bowl filled with the spiced brew and passed from one person to another with the litany of “wassail” and “drink hail” being repeated all the way around) among the household took the streets much like the carolers and other merry-makers of the time at which the wanders would offer the houses a drink (expecting some small payment in return) or the wanderers being offered one by the home owners. Very convivial, no matter how you look at it.

To make your own wassail, either for Christmas or, as is more correct, New Years Eve, combine the following in a large saucepan (enameled or glass being better for it than a reactive-metal type)

2 qt Lager
5 oz Simple syrup
3 ox Lemon juice
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Ginger
1 qt Dark rum

Heat this mixture until hot but not boiling and pour into a heat-proof punch bowl (unless, of course, you have a pewter or wooden Wassail bowl handy) over thinly sliced apples and lemons. Give it a few stirs and ladle into waiting mugs. This amount should serve about 10 people, depending on how large the mugs are or dry their throats!

Toast to all with a merry Wassail and enjoy the rest of the holiday season!