What is Wassail?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2019
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Wassail is a traditional drink served during the winter holidays, including Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Twelfth Night. It is especially popular in northern European countries, where it originates. It consists of a hot, spiced drink, often alcoholic, that most commonly resembles cider in the modern day. Originally, wassail is believed to have been closer to beer.

This beverage has been served since at least the Middle Ages. Historically, the drink was a mulled ale made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and topped with slices of toast. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Pieces of winter fruits, such as apples or oranges, are often added to the mix.

Wassail may have its roots in traditions predating the Middle Ages, as the Romans are known to have enjoyed a similar beverage, calda, during the winter celebration of Saturnalia. Many practices associated with Saturnalia, the celebration of the Winter Solstice, have been retained in Christmas celebrations. The practice of wassailing, which eventually became caroling, is believed by some to derive from a pre-Christian ceremony to ensure good crops during the next harvest season. An Apple Wassail is performed to this day in parts of England for this purpose. Twelfth Night, the last night of the Christmas season, which falls on 6 January, is the traditional date for this ceremony.


During the Middle Ages, wassailers were peasants who sang at the house of their lord during the winter holidays in exchange for food and drink. This practice has its legacy in door-to-door caroling. Wassail survives not only in the practice of caroling, but also in the words of many carols, such as "Here We Come A-Wassailing."


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Post 5

I have only had wassail a few times, but usually find it much too sweet for me.

Is there a way you can make this so it isn't quite so fruity and sweet? Maybe that is defeating the purpose, but it seems to me you could easily make a lighter version of it.

Post 4

I once read that traditional wassail was made with eggs and alcohol. This doesn't sound like a very good combination to me, and think I will stick with the cranberry wassail I like to make.

This is a great hot drink around the holidays or anytime it is cold outside. It has cranberry juice and apple cider along with oranges and an apple. Adding alcohol is optional.

This has a very sweet, fruity taste and I like to serve it along with some hot chocolate so people have more than choice for a hot drink.

Post 3

@narnia219-- I don't think you are alone there as I have done the same thing for years.

I have a great recipe for wassail that you make in the slow cooker. This is made with a combination of apple cider, orange and lemon juice. You add spices such as clove, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

This is the perfect drink for kids or adults, and when I serve it at a winter party, I never have any left over.

Post 2

I used to think holiday wassail was the same thing as cider, or mulled cider. I probably embarrassed myself referring to them interchangeably for years. So for anyone who might not know, the difference is that wassail is made from various fruits, while cider is made mostly from apples and apple juice. The spices and preparation are basically the same, just different juices. Though I believe apples can be included in wassail.

Post 1

Another drink Wassail led to in the present day is mead, or mulled wine. All of these have varying recipes depending on where you go and what is locally available, and many hosts at family gatherings will have their own personal recipes. However, while they have different names, the general basis of a wine or other liquor, heated with fruits and spices added, prevails over all of them.

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