The Victorian Christmas era was a time for renewing old traditions and bringing forth new ones. One of those old traditions was wassailing. The wassail was a steaming ale based drink made with sugar, spices and the pulp of roasted apples. The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon whose literal meaning is ‘Be whole.” A bowl of wassail was kept in homes for beggars and orphans who would go door to door singing carols for a cup of wassail and money or something to eat.
Mulled wine is a variation of wassail. It is made with wine, spices, citrus fruit and sometimes topped off with brandy. These days, it is traditionally served in many homes and functions in Britain around Christmas time with mince pies.
Glogg is almost identical from the Nordic Countries. Eggnog is popular in America and Canada and is made with cream, eggs, spices and rum.
Another ancient tradition that was revived during the Victorian era were the Mummers. Mummers had its pagan roots initially. They were men who wore masks and strange costumes and who performed in the streets seeking alms for the less fortunate. They put on plays and by Victorian times there was usually only one hero, St. George or King George. Other characters were the evil foe, Father Christmas, the Parish Beadle (policeman), doctors and lawyers. This tradition died out in Britain during WW2 but some areas will occasionally have them while in Philadelphia they have a mummers play every year.
In the 1994 movie version of Little Women, the March girls as pictured above went out singing “Here We Come A-Wassailing” but they weren’t begging. Instead they were bringing their Christmas breakfast to a family who were poorer than themselves. This in essence is the true meaning of Christmas… the gift of charity which is love in practice and the gift of unconditional love as God gave His only son to us.
The Christmas Carol, “The Wassail Song” or “Here We Come A-Wassailing” was composed in 1850 but the composer is unknown. The verses are below:
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
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.
Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours’ children,
Whom you have seen before.
Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.
We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.
Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.
God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.
Recipe for Wassail:
Jamie Oliver’s Mulled Wine Recipe:
I made this last year and it is sooo good. Here’s the link: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/recipe/jamie-s-mulled-wine