(This can also be spelled in other ways.)

The Wassel I am talking about is a common Christmas Drink. It is made of Orange Juice, Apple Cider, Fruit Juices, and a bunch of spices. My Dad makes this every winter.

I looked at etymonline only to find a drink consisting of alcohol. It had a different spelling. I couldn't find this spelling in Dictionary.com or Etmyonline. What is the origin of this word? I know it's been around for a long time.

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    I haven't seen your spelling (only 'wassail' as in "Let's go wassailing" (or xmas caroling I guess) – Mitch Dec 8 '15 at 0:16
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    @anonymous: Your Urban Dictionary link defines wassel as To dress up like a scientist just so one can masturbate while wearing a lab coat and safety goggles. Sometimes UD is useful, but not in this case, obviously. Is this truly a serious question? – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '15 at 0:38
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    When I searched (Google Books) for "Christmas Drink Wassel" it gave no results, so I switched to "Christmas Drink" "Wassel". It still asked me if I meant "Christmas Drink Wassail", but at least it showed me 4 results (the only one I could read was from The English dialect dictionary). My main point is I can't see why you wouldn't simply assume that wassel must be a variant spelling of wassail - sufficiently rare that you're not likely to find it in many dictionaries apart from the full OED. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '15 at 22:47
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    As noted, in my second search, I switched to "Christmas Drink" "Wassel". It doesn't make any difference if I reverse the sequence of the two separate quotated strings. But I'm not saying you're making anything up here - simply that it's blindingly obvious to me even without checking OED that wassel is a (non-standard, uncommon) variant spelling for wassail. But you seem to think that can't be the same thing as your Dad's concoction simply because it's got alcohol in it. No significant difference. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '15 at 23:04
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    @FumbleFingers I've asked for this to be reopened for several reasons. The answers have involved etymology, false dictionaries, Shakespeare's and Ben Jonson's spelling surviving in a family tradition, semantics (transfer of a Greeting to a drink and then a full-blown tradition). Even if there's a whole load of junk from me about folk-revival and Morris, there's a lot about language. Could I persuade you to support a re-opening? – Hugh Dec 10 '15 at 2:55

With the spelling 'wassail', the etymology is less obscure:

wassail, n.
Forms: ..., ME–18 wassel(l), ...
Etymology: Middle English wæs hæil etc., < Old Norse ves (= later ver ) heill , corresponding to Old English wes hál lit. ‘be in good health’ or ‘be fortunate’ ... As an ordinary salutation (= ‘hail’ or ‘farewell’) the phrase, or an approximation to it, occurs both in Old English (hál wes þú , and in plural wesað hále : see be v. 4 θ. forms) and in Old Norse (plural verið heilir). But neither in Old English nor in Old Norse, nor indeed in any Germanic language, has any trace been found of the use as drinking formulas, of the phrases represented by wassail and drinkhail. It seems probable that this use arose among the Danish-speaking inhabitants of England, and became more or less common among the native population; in the 12th cent. it was regarded by the Normans as markedly characteristic of the English. The earliest known occurrence of the phrases is in Geoffrey of Monmouth vi. xii. (c1140), in the well-known story of Rowena (wes heil..drinc heil: v.r. was heil, printed edd. corruptly wacht heil). Geoffrey's attribution of the phrases to the 5th century is an anachronism; the original story as told by Nennius contains nothing corresponding to them.

The foregoing etymology is given for 'wassail' generally, and is applicable to these definitions (among others):

Now only arch. and Hist.
1. a. A salutation used when presenting a cup of wine to a guest, or drinking the health of a person, the reply being drink-hail n.
2. The liquor in which healths were drunk; esp. the spiced ale used in Twelfth-night and Christmas-eve celebrations.

["wassail, n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/226012?rskey=MI88Tf&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed December 07, 2015).]

Wassail, the hot drink, is also known as Lambswool, a name purported to derive from the white puffiness of pieces of boiled apples. The drink is also traditionally served on Halloween. Alcohol is unnecessary, and many recipes do not explicitly include it.

The term 'wassail' may also be applied to both ancient and modern celebrations. Sometimes known as 'Apple Howling', these celebrations commonly take place at or around dusk on Christmas Eve and 12th Night (as mentioned in definition 2, above). As a verb, 'wassail' ('wassailed', 'wassailing'), is applied to the activities associated with those celebrations.

Down in the counties of South-West and South-East England a very old and special ceremony takes place in the apple orchards; the Wassail was a way to celebrate the end of Christmas and to bless the trees so that they will bear plenty of fruit for the cider. It was a time of celebration and merry-making. All of this happened at dusk, a magical time of day, where the world faeries and spirits overlapped with the world of Man.

(From British Food: A History, "Wassail!".)

This account of the origin of the drink and the ceremony is given at the British Food site:

Wassailing predates the Battle of Hastings and is thought to have its origins in Ancient Rome, where people would make sacrifices to the Pomona, the Roman Goddess of Fruits. The word Wassail originates from the Anglo-Saxon waes-hael, meaning “to your health” and the word is used just as we would use Cheers! today. Below is one telling of its origins by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 1135 book History of the Kings of Britain:

'While Vortigern was being entertained at a royal banquet, the girl Renwein came out of an inner room carrying a golden goblet full of wine. She walked up to the King, curtsied low, and said “Lavert King, was hail!” When he saw the girl’s face, Vortigern was greatly struck by her beauty and was filled with desire for her. He asked his interpreter what it was that the girl had said and what he ought to reply to her. “She called you Lord King and did you honour by drinking your health. What you should reply is ‘drinc hail.'” Vortigern immediately said the words “drinc hail” and ordered Renwein to drink. Then he took the goblet from her hand, kissed her and drank in his turn. From that day to this, the tradition has endured in Britain that the one who drinks first at a banquet says “was hail” and he who drinks next says “drinc hail.”'

(op. cit.)

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For a description of the drink -Cider, Spices, Baked-apple Snow, see http://www.cbladey.com/wasdrink.html

For a Picture of the Orchard ceremonies: Apple Queen, A cup to share, Sticks to rattle the tree, Morris dancers, see Daily Mail The picture doesn't show the bonfire, or the shot-guns to fire into the branches, or the cider soaked cake, or the cream-bowl for bobbing for apples which are all part of the festivities

For the rhymes and songs for Wassail at home, Wassailing the Orchards, and Wassailing from house to house: hymnsandcarolsofchristmas:

Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering So fair to be seen.

A cider-soaked cake is laid in the fork of a tree and then more cider is splashed on it. The men fire their guns into the tree and bang on pots and pans while the rest of the people bow their heads and sing the special "Wassail Song."

WASSAIL the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.

The earliest song on this site is in Norman French so it must be earlier than 1300; indeed OED attests 1275, a Lady offering a cup of wine to her Lord King with the words 'Wæs Hail.' (Thanks for OED reference to @FumbleFingers )

Wassailing of trees is still (or again ) practiced in the Gloucestershire region of England.
..also Herefordshire, Devon, and in Normandy,France, out6 of renewed respect fot the natural world.

Wassel is apparently Shakespeare's preferred spelling:

Will I with wine and wassel so convince:


Leave thy Lascivious wassels

Antony and Cleopatra Act1/Sc4/.

Keeps wassel

Hamlet Act1/Sc4/.

Well that's according to An Index to the Remarkable Passages and Words Made Use of by Shakspeare ... By Samuel Ayscough The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare: Much ado about nothing. Hamlet By Edmond Malone

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    OED's first reference is attested 1275, with a note to say they think the cited usage was actually composed about 1200. The actual text is Heo fulde hir scale of wine..& þus hailede him on..Lauerd king wæs hail, which I must admit I would scarcely recognize as English at all. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '15 at 23:52
  • I would be afraid to use "Shakespeare" and "preferred spelling" in the same sentence. He spelled his own name three different ways on his 1615 last will and testament: "The six signatures" – MetaEd Dec 10 '15 at 23:04
  • @MετάEd Sorry, Shakespeare is shorthand for The Plays ascribed to William Shakespeare. The Quartos 1 - 5 of Hamlet, and the standard works on the plays c.1800 are all consistent in the spelling of Wassel. ...and Ben Jonson too. – Hugh Dec 11 '15 at 13:47

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