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Mummers' Parade

Wassail,( pronounced WAA – sl), comes from Old Norse ves heill, “Be Well”, and is a custom of long-standing. In the 14th century, the term referred to a warm beverage [recipe below] that included alcoholic spirits. The term also described the resulting raucous behavior in which wassailers called upon members of higher classes to wish them a happy new year, or so they said. In the 17th century, revelers added toasts to cattle and trees, calling back to Anglo-Saxon customs of sacrifice to Freya in hopes of a good harvest.

When wassailers came to call, they carried a bowl of warm wassail with them to share with their host as they toasted him, his family, and his livestock while wishing him health and wealth in the year ahead. The master topped up the wassailers’ alcohol and sent them away with gifts. This reciprocal arrangement was to encourage the lord’s charity.

Wassailing in the Trees

Wassailing to the Trees

The custom of Wassailing in the Trees takes place on Twelfth Night. The event opens with a torch-lit procession around the orchard. Twelve small bonfires are set around the largest tree in the orchard, variously representing the 12 signs of the zodiac, or the 12 apostles. A boy is hoisted up to lay a cider soaked cake in the fork of the tree, and splash more cider over it. Participants fire guns into the tree and bang pots and pans as a way to ward evil spirits away from the orchard and encourage a bountiful crop. And if that isn’t enough incentive, they threaten the trees with an axe if they do not produce well. Yikes!

A Traditional Wassail Recipe

There are many ways to make wassail, some alcoholic, some not. This recipe is from Colonial Williamsburg, and in contrast to most wassail recipes, does not included any apples.

Wassail Bowl

You will need: 1 cup of sugar; 4 cinnamon sticks; 3 lemon slices; 2 cups of pineapple juice; 2 cups of orange juice; 6 cups of dry red wine; 1/2 a cup of lemon juice; 1 cup of dry sherry; 2 sliced lemons

For the Syrup: Boil the cinnamon sticks with 3 lemon slices in half a cup of water for 5 minutes. Drain and discard the cinnamon and lemon.

Next: Heat but don’t boil the other ingredients. Combine with the syrup. Serve hot with a garnish of lemon slices.

Gloucester Wassail Song

There are several popular Wassail songs, but the Gloucester Wassail, as arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1913, is a popular choice for holiday concerts.

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.


Here’s to our horse, and to his right ear,

God send our master a happy new year:

A happy new year as e’er he did see,

With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek

Pray God send our master a good piece of beef

And a good piece of beef that may we all see

With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Mince Pies

Here’s to our mare, and to her right eye,

God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;

A good Christmas pie as e’er I did see,

With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn

May God send our master a good crop of corn

And a good crop of corn that may we all see

With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Father Christmas with Wassail Bowl

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear

Pray God send our master a happy New Year

And a happy New Year as e’er he did see

With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Here’s to our cow, and to her long tail,

God send our master us never may fail

Of a cup of good beer: I pray you draw near,

And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear.

Bourbon Punch

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best

Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest

But if you do draw us a bowl of the small

Then down shall go butler, bowl and all.

Be here any maids? I suppose here be some;

Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone!

Sing hey O, maids! come trole back the pin,

And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.


Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock

Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock

Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin

For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Now that you have the words, you can sing along with the QuireCleveland’s rendition of the Wassail Song.

This is my last blog of 2022. To quote the words of The Wassail Song, I wish you a new year in which

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!

Happy New Year Card


Mummers’ Parade, 2011.

Wassail at Bridgeport Community Orchard 2022 by Stephen & Helen Jones.

Wassail by Jeremy Darling.

Mummers. 1836.

Mince Pies with Start Decoration by Melbourne Mermaid.

Old Christmas Wassail Bowl, London Illustrated News. 1836.

Southern Bourbon Punch by Shawn Lea.

Maid by Wellcome Images.

Wassail Recipe. Colonial Williamsburg. 2006.

Wassailing. Hymns & Carols of Christmas.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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