A simmering pot of “Wassail” on Christmas morning! — Apple cider, orange juice, pineapple juice, black pepper, ginger, cloves and cinnamon - this is what Christmas smells like!
Traditional Wassailing (and, incidentally, Toasting) Wassail, first started as a greeting or as a toast. Waes hael, revelers might say holding up a mug of spiced cider. Eventually, as things go, wassail referred less often to the greeting and more often to the drink.
Wassail is a hot, mulled punch often associated with Yuletide, drunk from a 'wassailing bowl'. The earliest versions were warmed mead into which roasted crab apples were dropped and burst to create a drink called 'lambswool' drunk on Lammas day, still known in Shakespeare's time.
Later, the drink evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, topped with slices of toast as sops and drunk from a large communal bowl. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix, and some recipes also call for beaten eggs to be tempered into the drink. Great bowls turned from wood, pottery or tin often had many handles for shared drinking and highly decorated lids; antique examples can still be found in traditional pubs.
Hence the first stanza of the traditional carol the Gloucestershire Wassail dating back to the Middle Ages.
Wassail! wassail! all over the town, Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown; Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree; With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink unto thee.