The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase waes hael, meaning “be of good health.” In festive gatherings first described by Peter de Langtoft in the 1320s, one person raised the bowl (essentially a massive cup) and cried “wassail,” to which the others revelers responded, “Drinkhail.” Each participant drank from the bowl and then passed it to the next person with a kiss, a ritual repeated by all in attendance. The wassail bowl often contained mulled wine, cider, or spiced and sweetened ale with apple pulp.
The ceremony of wassailing was popular on Christmas and New Year’s Eve and particularly on Twelfth Night. This wassail bowl-and-cup set, dated 1685 and made of lignum vitae, would have been decorated with ribbons and rosemary and carried through the streets by women singing carols. Payments to “wassailers” are recorded in the household accounts of the gentry throughout the late Stuart and Hanoverian periods. The custom continues in some parts of Yorkshire today.
This wassail set is just one of more than 450 objects included in the publication "Marking Time: Objects, People, and Their Stories, 1500–1800."
Image: Jamie Stukenberg, courtesy of The Bryan Collection, Lake Bluff, IL.
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