Wassail is an ancient pagan tradition that is celebrated in Great Britain, Scandinavia, Northern Germany, and Northern France. The word “wassail” comes from the Norse word for "be-well". Is it coincidence or is it something else? That's for you to decide.


This article is about the drink. For English folk culture event, see Wassailing. For the Big Big Train EP, see Wassail (EP). For the choral work, see Wassail! Carols of Comfort and Joy. For the educational measurement system, see WASSAIL.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "wassail" originated as a borrowing from the Old Norse salutation ves heill, corresponding to Old English hál wes þú or wes hál – literally meaning 'be in good health' or 'be fortunate'. It was initially used in the sense of 'hail' or 'farewell', without any drinking connotation. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)Wassail (/ˈwÉ’sÉ™l/, /-eɪl/ WOSS-É™l, -⁠ayl, likely from Old Norse "ves heill") is a beverage made from hot mulled cider and spices, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, an ancient English Yuletide drinking ritual and salutation either involved in door-to-door charity-giving or used to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. (Source:n.wikipedia.org)))

The expression later became part of the drinking formula "wassail...drinkhail" which, the OED suggests, initially arose in England among the Anglo-Danes, and from there spread to the native population, being considered a specifically Anglo Saxon characteristic by the 12th century. The earliest record is of around 1140, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's telling of the Rowena story, which has wes heil..drinc heil (or, in a variant reading, was heil). Later Middle English manuscripts have a variety of spellings, including wæs hæil, wæshail, wessail, washayl, washail, wesseyl, wassayl, wassaile, wassaylle, wessayle, whatsaile and whatsaill. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

Wassail is a hot, mulled punch often associated with Yuletide, often drunk from a 'wassail bowl'. The earliest versions were warmed mead into which roasted crab apples were dropped and burst to create a drink called 'lambswool' drunk on Lammas day, still known in Shakespeare's time. (Source: en.wikipedia.org The "Wassail Butler" of Chepstow in blackface, holding a wassail bowl. (Source:en.wikipedia.org))


At Carhampton, near Minehead, the Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on Old Twelfth Night (17 January) as a ritual to ask the gods

The ceremonies of each wassail vary from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next; the wassail Queen is then lifted into the boughs of the tree where she places toast soaked in wassail from the clayen cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). In some counties the youngest boy or "Tom Tit" will stand in for the Queen and hang the cider-soaked toast in the tree. Then an incantation is usually recited. (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

British folk rock band Steeleye Span opened their third album Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1971) with an extended, minor-key version of "Gower Wassail", Tim Hart singing the traditional verses and the others joining the chorus. (Source: en.wikipedia.org The British rock band Blur released a song titled "The Wassailing Song", with each member taking a verse. The release was limited to 500 7-inch pressings, which were given out at a concert in 1992. The version of "The Wassailing Song" performed by Blur was later adapted in a recording by The Grizzly Folk, who have stated that the arrangement bears a close resemblance to the "Gloucestershire Wassail". (Source:en.wikipedia.org))

In her song "Oh England My Lionheart", on the 1978 album Lionheart, Kate Bush sings "Give me one wish, and I'd be wassailing in the orchard, my English rose." (Source: en.wikipedia.

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