The English Christmas carol above evokes a holiday custom that goes back a thousand years or more. The wassail bowl is filled with spiced cider, wine or ale while rings of oranges and lemons are afloat. Wassailing continued into the 19th Century with other wassail-like drinks, like eggnog, gaining popularity. Victorian novelists Washington Irving and Charles Dickens elevated this idealized view of what Christmas could be with warm and welcoming homes for families and friends to gather around the wassail bowl, as they might carol from house to house.
At each home folks would give and receive a simple greeting. The toast, “was hail,” means be in good health or be fortunate. The reply “drink hail” was given.
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