You may have sung this holiday carol since childhood and, to this day, still have no idea what wassail, or wassailing is. Coming from the Anglo-Saxon waes hael , the word literally means ‘be you healthy’ or ‘good health’ and was first used as a simple greeting before being turned into a traditional drinking beverage. (Which is why, “To your health!” is often said when drinking with others.) This hot, mulled cider became the focal point of “wassailing,” which started as a Medieval drinking ritual as an honor to the trees, intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. The tradition later changed from going orchard to orchard, to going door to door with a large, ornate bowl asking for it to be filled, which became the custom of wassailing – or the habit of visiting neighbors, singing carols, and sharing drink — much like our customs today of caroling and Mumming. Plus, enjoy a delicious Christmas Wassail Recipe below.
The phrase Waes hael caught on as a common toast due to the piece of toast or crisp breads that were traditionally floated on top of the wassail, which is where our phrase, “Let’s have a toast,” or “I’ll toast to that!” comes from. Traditionally made of mulled ale, curdled cream, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar with pieces of toast and roasted apples floating in it, wassail was also sometimes called ‘Lamb’s Wool’ because the pulp from the roasted apples made it look frothy, resembling soft wool. The legendary drink was served on the Feast of the Three Kings, or Twelfth Night, which marks the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus, but the wealthy drank Wassail on all the 12 days of Christmas.
If you haven’t made wassail before – time for a new tradition! Plus, your house will transform into a cozy Christmas cottage the minute this sweet pot of joy-joy starts simmering. There are many variations of wassail but most all of them contain several basic ingredients, and you can make it with hard cider and brandy or forgo the alcohol altogether to make it kid-friendly like the delicious wassail we’re sharing here. We promise that it will wrap you in warm yuletide cheer the entire season.
Step 1: Pour apple cider into your pot, then add the orange juice, and lemon juice and gently stir together until well blended.
Step 2: Add the hibiscus tea bags, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise.
Step 3: Slice the ginger and add in with the juniper berries.
Step 4: Lastly, make round slices with your apple and orange and add them to your pot.
Tip: if you’d like, you can stud your orange slices with cloves on the edge of the peel or on the top for a festive look.
Step 5: Set the slow cooker to high heat and cook for 3-4 hours, until the color has darkened and the fruit is soft. If using a pot on the stove, allow to simmer all day, then remove the tea bags and serve hot.
We hope you’ll enjoy the warmth and comfort of this traditional drink all throughout the season. May you drink it in ‘good health’ with your family and friends. “To your health!”
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