The History of the Word "Wassail"


Apple tree wassailing is a ceremony which involves drinking to the health of the apple trees.

The Anglo-Saxons used the phrase Wæs hal! as an everyday greeting. Wæs is a form of the verb "to be" related to modern English was. Hal is the ancestor of the modern English words whole and hale. Thus, wæs hal literally meant "Be healthy!". The Vikings who later settled in Northern England used a dialectal varient of the same phrase: Ves heill!. Since the Anglo-Saxons and Norse shared a custom of welcoming guests by presenting them with a horn of ale (or cup of mead, or goblet of wine), the greeting evolved into a toast.

The phrase was eventually contracted into one word,wassail, and came to refer to the act of toasting to someones health, wassailing, and to a type of alcoholic beverage (spiced ale or punch) used to toast people's health on special occasions. The use of wassailing to mean "caroling" (as in "Here we go a-wassailing...") stems from the habit of singing songs whilst drinking from the "wassail-bowl" during Christmas and New Year celebrations.


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