This desire is sealed with a drink of wassail, a heady drink filled with spices believed to promote health and vitality – hence the toast.
Originally, participants would take the drink from house to house. Over the years the ceremony has evolved to suit the needs of its celebrants, and as a result there are many types of wassail parties including: Wassail in the Apple Orchard (a toast to the health of the trees – to insure a good harvest), and Wassail Door to Door (a progressive party), and Wassail in the Hall (set in one home or location).
Though the party goes on around the toast, the call of “Wassail” (Be in Good Health) elicits the response “Drink Hail” (Drink Health). It is in fact the moment of this earnest “blessing” that is the central focus of the party, and hosting a wassail party is a terrific way for you to should the people in your life just how much they mean to you.
To organize a progressive wassail party between houses that are more than walking distance from one another, consider limiting the early houses to recipes without alcohol. Some party organizers make the final home in the progression the only house that serves the wassail recipe containing alcohol.
For those who are leery of throwing a dedicated wassail party but want to include the toast as part of a holiday party, simply make the Wassail Bowl and the toast a part of the festivities. As part of seasonal cooking, most homes already have the key ingredients on hand (cinnamon, brown sugar, ginger, clove, apples, cardamom, etc.).
The tradition of wassail is one that has evolved over the years and is meant to have significance in the lives of those involved. Feel free to make it your own. Making it a personal project to be savored will enhance the enjoyment of introducing it to friends and family. The vital elements are the intent of the toast, the participation of loved ones, and the warm, healthy goodness of the wassail itself.
Party Planning Checklist
- Prepare an invitation that stresses that this is no ordinary Christmas party, but a traditional seasonal party with a purpose.
- Include a brief history of wassail and wassailing (as an insert or as part of an online invitation) and stress the personal importance of having your guests present for this celebration.
- Set a particular time (other than the party’s start time) for the official Wassail Toast and politely suggest that the toast would be that much more meaningful if the guests could be present for that moment.
- For progressive parties coordinate toast times at each house, and spell them out carefully on the invitations.
- For progressive parties, some guests will most likely join in mid-party so it’s good to specify houses where it’s easiest to join the group.
- Prepare a small gift to remind guests of the history of wassail, and their role in the evening’s events. This party favor will remind everyone of the party and encourage others to carry on the tradition, or simply begin looking forward to the annual wassail party. Another option is to handwrite this information on a small decorative chalkboard set in the front of the room for all to see.
The Day of the Party Checklist
- Start brewing wassail according to one of these recipes and fill your house with the spicy aroma of Old England.
- Greet guests/hosts as they arrive, or as you progress from house to house in the progressive wassail party.
- At the appointed time, bring the Wassail Bowl into the party.
- The host leads the guests in the wassail song.
- Serve everyone a steaming mug of wassail.
- The guests lead the tradition by raising their mugs in a chorus of “Wassail!!!”
- The host replies, ”Drink Hail!!!”
- Everyone drinks to mutual health and vitality.