DECEMBER 29TH – ST THOMAS WASSAILING

Black and white drawing of a servant Bringing in the Wasaill Bowl (from Washington Irving's 'Old Christmas
Bringing in the Wassail Bowl (from Washington Irving’s ‘Old Christmas’)

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
5 Golden Rings; 4 Calling Birds; 3 French Hens; 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

The fourth day of Christmas is dedicated to Thomas Becket, martyred at Canterbury. In London there was a legend that his mother, Matilda, was a Muslim who fell in love with Thomas’s dad, Gilbert, during the Crusades. She helped him escape captivity and then found her own way from Acre to London, knowing only the name ‘London’ in English and walking most of the way. It is said that on St Thomas Day people used to walk around St Paul’s multiple times to remember her walk of love. The story was told as true from the 13th Century till the 19th Century found Matilda had more prosaic Norman origins. The story is told here:

The Twelve Days of Christmas are full of wassailing. This has at least two different facets. Firstly, it is a formal drinking tradition at the centre of Christmas hospitality. Secondly, it is part of the traditional of the Waits, the Mummers, and Carol Singers who go around the village singing or playing in exchange for a drink or some food, or money.

The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon version of ‘Cheers’ or good health and its ceremonial use is described by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1135.

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.”

Geoffrey is explaining how Vortigern betrayed Britain for the love of Rowena, the Saxon Hengist’s daughter, and speculating on the origins of the tradition of wassail.

A Wassail bowl would be full of some form of mulled alcohol or hot punch. A couple of pints of ale or cider, a pint of wine/brandy/mead, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You should have an apple or crab-apple floating in the bowl. To find out more look at ‘British Food, a History’ here.

Join me on my virtual ‘Ring in the New Year’ guided walk around London.

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