If you’ve never had a warm cup of wassail on a chilly winter’s night, then you’re in for a treat because this classic Yuletide drink is the star at three local celebrations: the Wassailfest in New Braunfels; Stars in the Village at the Pioneer Village Living History Center in Gonzales; and the Wassail Walk in La Vernia. But before you go for the wassail and holiday fun, here are some trivia tidbits to take on the road.
Wassail, the Toast
There is one legend that says wassail began as a toast, not a drink, and may be the first recorded toast in history. As the story goes, the word “wassail” was derived from the Old Norse/Anglo Saxon phrases, “ves heil” and “waes hael,” meaning good health. So, when Rowena, the beautiful daughter of a medieval Saxon leader served King Vortigern spiced wine, she wished him good health or “Waes Hael!” He replied, “Drinc hael,” meaning, drink and good health.
Wassail, the Drink
No one really knows the recipe for the first cup of wassail. Even today, the ingredients vary. But in general, it’s believed the original drink consisted of cider or something alcoholic along with spices, sugar, cream and roasted crab apples. People served or drank it from a large communal bowl called the wassailing bowl.
Wassail, the Ceremony
In some apple-producing areas in England, wassailing refers to the tradition of singing and drinking to the health of orchard trees, in hope they will produce a better crop. This old ceremony, which still takes place in some villages, generally involves selecting a king and queen who lead a group through the orchard singing songs and pouring wassail over tree roots. They may also put wassail-soaked toast in the tree limbs to attract birds that will eat crop-damaging insects.
In more populated areas, wassailing evolved into an activity much like caroling. In olden days, groups would carry the wassailing bowl to the Lords of the Manor, who for good luck, would give the wassailers food and money. In later times, wassailing groups visited their neighbors to simply wish them well for the coming New Year.
Pioneer Village’s Wassail
Paul and Vicki Frenzel, Gonzales
1 gallon apple cider
1 (64 oz.) container cranberry juice cocktail
1 ½ cups brown sugar
5 sticks cinnamon
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
Pour cider and cranberry juice cocktail into a large coffee pot. In the coffee pot basket, add the remaining ingredients. Heat until juices percolate, then serve.
La Vernia Wassail Walk – Dec 2 – City Park and throughout the city
There will be activities throughout the city beginning with Passport Shopping with merchants offering wassail and raffle tickets for purchases made. Don’t miss the Holiday Craft Show, Rummage Sale and Bake Sale hosted by the Lions Club at the La Vernia High School cafeteria from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. or the Christmas Market from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Immanuel Lutheran Church on Seguin St. Then, beginning at 5 p.m., Santa arrives by fire truck at La Vernia City Park where there’ll be snow, sled and train rides, entertainment and the annual tree lighting. For info: 830-779-2115
New Braunfels Wassailfest – Dec 7 – Downtown from 6-9pm
Join in on the fun in historic downtown New Braunfels for the official toast to kick off this annual family event. Wassailfest is an evening of music, fun, food, shopping and thousands of twinkling holiday lights along with wassail tastings. Starts at 6 p.m.
at historic downtown New Braunfels main plaza. For info: www.nbtexas.org or 830-221-4350
Stars in the Village – Dec 2, 8, 9 – Pioneer Village, Gonzales from 6-9pm
This truly is a chance to step back in time to experience the holidays in an early Texas village where the docents, dressed in costume, share old-timey activities with visitors. For example, you can make popcorn and roast marshmallows over an open fire, churn butter and more. Enjoy the entertainment, too, as you eat warm cookies while drinking wassail or hot cocoa. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children 6-12, and under 6 are free. For info: http://thepioneervillage.vpweb.com or 830-672-2157
If you know of any other community events in our service area that celebrates the holiday season with a warm cup of wassail, let us know. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on our Facebook page. In the meantime, Waes Hael!