Here We Come A-Wassailing…

December 5th, 2013

Lithograph of a group of women with a steaming bowl approaching a man and group at an entrance to a building.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wandering
So fair to be seen,
Love and joy come to you
And to your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
A Happy New Year

On Saturday, December 7, 2013, the 45th Annual Wassail Bowl and Sale is being held in the Presbyterian Church, 24 Park Place in Geneva from 10 am to 2 pm. This is a great opportunity to get fresh wreaths and greens, baked goods, and gifts for the holiday season. The proceeds all benefit the Geneva Historical Society. Wassail will also be available for tasting. This begs the question—what is wassail?

Though the exact origins of wassail is unknown, in England it was an Anglo-Saxon  greeting (“waes hail”) meaning “be in good health.” This simple greeting gradually evolved into a call and response toast. One person started the toast (usually the most esteemed guest) by raising a communal bowl and shouting “was hail” to the person next to them and that person would answer “drinc hail.” The bowl would be passed around with each person taking their turn in the call and response. What were people drinking? A mixture of mulled ale or mead, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg topped with crab apples and slices of toast.  This beverage became known as wassail and it was served in a huge bowl known as the wassail bowl.A man holding up a large steaming cup before a woman seated at a dining table.

In time wassail became associated with Christmas and particularly the Twelfth Night. By the 1600s wassailing had also changed from an indoor activity to an outdoor activity. On the Twelfth Night, or January 5, groups of people would travel from house to house singing songs and offering to share the contents of their wassail bowl for a small fee. Wassailing would continue into the 1800s.

To encourage fertility, farmers also wassailed their animals and crops, particularly apple orchards. Singing, toasting to the trees health, placing cider soaked bread into the branches or splashing the trees with cider were all done to ward off evil spirits and ensure a fruitful harvest.

To taste this piece of history, join us at the Wassail Bowl and Sale.

Tagged With: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *