Wassailing? One explanation

Wassailing is one of our most enduring Christmas traditions, with reference to it made as early as the 1300’s! It's surprising that most of us think of it as a peculiar, if charming bit of history. But its role in family and community togetherness and merriment is one we could use today at least as much as our medieval ancestors. Like the best traditions, friends - new or old - provide its meaning, no matter what we’re drinking.

Like many lasting customs, wassailing is associated with an enchanting legend. A Saxon young woman named Rowena (Her beauty, of course, was unparalleled. But then we knew that, didn’t we?) offered Prince Vortigen a bowl of wine while toasting him with the phrase, “Waes hael,” which is an Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning “good health.”

The story led to the tradition of shouting “Wassail!” before sipping from a cup. Then after taking a sip, the first person passes the cup to her neighbour. That person replies “Drinkhail,” and accepts the cup, taking a sip. He shouts “Wassail!” to the next person, and passes the cup along, giving a kiss to the recipient who says, “Drinkhail!”