Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A salutation or toast given in drinking someone's health or as an expression of goodwill at a festivity.
  • n. The drink used in such toasting, commonly ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar.
  • n. A festivity characterized by much drinking.
  • transitive v. To drink to the health of; toast.
  • intransitive v. To engage in or drink a wassail.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A toast to health, usually at a festival.
  • n. The beverage served during a wassail.
  • n. Revelry.
  • v. To toast, to drink to the health of another.
  • v. To drink wassail.
  • v. To go from house to house at Christmastime, singing carols.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An ancient expression of good wishes on a festive occasion, especially in drinking to some one.
  • n. An occasion on which such good wishes are expressed in drinking; a drinking bout; a carouse.
  • n. The liquor used for a wassail; esp., a beverage formerly much used in England at Christmas and other festivals, made of ale (or wine) flavored with spices, sugar, toast, roasted apples, etc.; -- called also lamb's wool.
  • n. A festive or drinking song or glee.
  • adj. Of or pertaining to wassail, or to a wassail; convivial.
  • intransitive v. To hold a wassail; to carouse.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The salutation, toast, or form of words in which healths were formerly pledged in drinking, equivalent to ‘health,’ or ‘your good health,’ now in use.
  • n. A festive occasion or meeting where drinking and pledging of healths are indulged in; festivities; a drinking-bout; a carouse.
  • n. The liquor used on such occasions; specifically, ale, mixed with a smaller amount of wine, sweetened and flavored with spices, fruit, etc.
  • n. A merry drinking-song.
  • n. Synonyms Revel, Debauch, etc. See carousal.
  • To drink to the health or prosperity of: as, to wassail the apple (an old custom on Christmas eve).
  • To drink healths; carouse.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. celebrate noisily, often indulging in drinking; engage in uproarious festivities
  • n. a punch made of sweetened ale or wine heated with spices and roasted apples; especially at Christmas
  • v. propose a toast to

Etymologies

Middle English, contraction of wæshæil, be healthy, from Old Norse ves heill : ves, imperative sing. of vera, to be; see wes-1 in Indo-European roots + heill, healthy; see kailo- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old Norse ves heill ("be healthy!"), from the imperative of vesa ("to be") + heill ("healthy"). The earliest documented use of the term is from 1275. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon greeting waes hael, which meant “be well.”

    Archive 2008-12-01

  • He was apt to tell me when he had been sitting up all night, whether in study or what he called wassail; but I could always guess the fact from his appearance.

    A Romantic Young Lady

  • And each meeting meant a drink; and there was much to talk about; and more drinks; and songs to be sung; and pranks and antics to be performed, until the maggots of imagination began to crawl, and it all seemed great and wonderful to me, these lusty hard-bitten sea - rovers, of whom I made one, gathered in wassail on a coral strand.

    Chapter XVI

  • Glögg is similar to a variety of historical mulled wines, such as wassail and gluwein.

    12 Days of Bacon: Day Twelve « TV BACON

  • For hot "wassail", use orange koolaid the church's brand is best....but you can't buy it with a pinch of cinnamon and a tiny pinch of cloves in it, then heat it.

    Hot Cocoa

  • Yuletide "wassail", can be derived from his having "powlert up and down" in a county abounding with comfortable manor houses and cosy inns.

    Dickens-Land

  • There is something barbaric, I suppose, in the British customs still -- something that reminds one of their ancient condition when the Romans conquered them -- when their supreme idea of enjoyment was to have an ox roasted whole before them while they drank "wassail" till they groveled under their own tables in a worse condition than overfed swine.

    Vendetta: a story of one forgotten

  • The lordly "wassail" of the fur-trader, the long-continued dance of the gay French

    Memoirs of 30 Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers

  • The lordly "wassail" of the fur-trader, the long-continued dance of the gay French "habitant," the roll of the billiard-ball, the shuffle of the card, and the frequent potations of wine "when it is red in the cup," will now, at least, no longer retain their places in the customs of this spot on the frontier without the hope of having their immoral tendencies pointed out.

    Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers

  • _Swill_: to swill is to drink greedily, hence to drink like a pig. ~wassailers~; from 'wassail' [A.S. _waes hael_; from _wes_, be thou, and _hál_, whole (modern English _hale_)], a form of salutation, used in drinking one's health; and hence employed in the sense of 'revelling' or 'carousing.'

    Milton's Comus

Comments

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  • Decent account here, including recipe.

    December 16, 2009

  • According to Robert Gayre, in Brewing Mead: Wassail! In Mazers of Mead (with Charlie Papazian) probably derived from an old English toast along the lines of "wachs heil," or to your health; the response was, he says, "drinc heil". From thence to the drink itself.

    September 7, 2008