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Upgrade Your Caroling With Traditional Wassail

If you’ve never heard of wassail, it might be a tradition you’ll want to adopt. Caroling can be a fun and festive part of the holidays, but caroling while drinking a piping hot alcoholic beverage is a definite upgrade.

Wassail is a traditional drink that dates all the way back to medieval England and is still enjoyed today. But what is it?

What is wassail?

Nowadays wassail resembles mulled cider, but back in medieval England, wassail was a mixture of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and sugar. It was served from large bowls during Christmas time, most often on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night.

The wassailing ceremony often involved singing and drinking to the health of the apple trees to bring about a good harvest. While wassail is often served today at Christmas celebrations, there are parts of southern England that still celebrate the traditional wassail ceremonies.

How did wassail traditions start?

Legend says that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena toasted the English Prince Vortigern with a bowl of wine, saying “waes hael” meaning “good health”. The two were later married and over time the celebratory ceremonies emerged.

Villagers would gather in the winter to pour cider over the apple trees and hang cider-soaked toast on the branches for the birds that they believed to be good spirits. By pleasing the good spirits, they were helping to ensure a strong harvest in the next year.

Later the tradition evolved into the more current idea of wassailing which is to drink wassail while caroling to bring good cheer to neighbors and ring in the new year. That’s where we get the most well-known wassailing carol:

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green,

Here we come a-wassailing,

So fair to be seen:

Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you,

A happy New Year,

And God send you,

A happy new year.

How do I make wassail?

There are hundreds of variations on wassail, some with alcohol and some without. Often it’s served warm, but it can be cold as well. Basically, the choice is yours, but here’s one of our favorite recipes to get you started.


  • 2 medium oranges

  • 20 cloves

  • 4 quarts apple cider

  • 2 quarts cranberry juice

  • 1 tablespoon aromatic bitters

  • 4 stick cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon white allspice

  • 2 cups rum (optional)

  • Garnish: Cinnamon sticks

  • Garnish: Star anise pods

  • Garnish: Orange slices


  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Stud the oranges with the cloves. Set aside.

  3. In a large saucepan over low to medium-low heat, combine the apple cider, cranberry juice, bitters, cinnamon sticks, allspice, and optional rum. Heat gently on the stove for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Place a cinnamon stick, a couple of star anises, an orange slice, or a combination of all of them in each mug you're serving. Pour a cup of wassail in each mug and serve.

Enjoy your holiday wassail!

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