The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Wassail Bowl

Source: Washington Irving, Old Christmas – From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving (London: Macmillan & Co., Fifth Edition, 1886), pp. 132-5; Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

Old Christmas – Christmas Dinner

The Wassail BowlWhen the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation ; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself; alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him ; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface. (See Note G)

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one to follow his example, according to the primitive style; pronouncing it “the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met together.” (See Note H)

There was much laughing and rallying as the honest emblem of Christmas joviality circulated, and was kissed rather coyly by the ladies. When it reached Master Simon he raised it in both hands, and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail chanson :

The Squire's ToastThe browne bowle,
The merry browne bowle,
As it goes round about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a.
The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.

(From “Poor Robin's Almanack.”)

Notes From Irving

NOTE G, p. 133.

The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine ; with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs ; in this way the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, and round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It is also called Lambs Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his “Twelfth Night:”

    “Next crowne the bowle full
    With gentle Lambs Wool,
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
    With store of ale too ;
    And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger.”

NOTE H, p. 134.

The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to each having his cup. When the steward came to the doore with the Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, and then the chappel (chaplain) was to answer with a song. - ARCHEOLOGIA. Return

See also:

Wassailing! - Notes On The Songs And Traditions

Apple Howling and Firing At The Apple Trees (Hazlett's 1905 edition of Brands Popular Antiquities.

William Hone, The Every Day Book: January 6 - Epiphany.

Ceremonies For Christmas - A. H. Bullen.

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