Here we go a-wassailing among the leaves so green
Here we come a-caroling, so fair to be seen
Love and joy come to you
And to you your wassail too
And god bless you and send you a happy new year
And god send you a happy new year.
As a result, the above is by no means the only wassail song for this time of year, but it is the best known. If you don't know what it sounds like the midi can be found HERE.
So what is the stuff? Well, it's been different over the years. If you get yourself a bottle of Chaucer's mead it usually comes with a packet of mulling spices. That would indeed work for wassail (and is soooooo good....). But I will bestow upon you the recipe that has graced every Christmas party since I discovered it for my chilly outdoor November Renaissance wedding:
1 gallon of cider (not the clear apple juicy stuff, good hearty cider)
3 tb. light corn syrup (honey works too)
a sugar-cinnamon mixture
3 Granny Smith apples
whole cinnamon sticks
Put the cider in your crock pot. Heat the corn syrup in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. Cover it (trust me on this... you don't want to be cleaning corn syrup off the top of your microwave). Slice your apples, on the thick side. They look better if you do horizontal cuts so you can see the little stars in the core. Remove the seeds though. Dip the apples in the corn syrup, then coat with cinnamon sugar. Put in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes until they're soft. Add to the pot. Slice your lemon (again, not too thin) and stud each little section with a cinnamon clove. Drop in the pot, with 4 or 5 whole cinnamon sticks. Let it brew for a few hours before your event. I have heard of a little pineapple juice or cranberry juice being added, and I don't think it would hurt it a bit.
This makes nonalcoholic wassail, to which you can then add some mead, or spiced rum, or whatever alcohol takes your fancy, if you like. It's really awesome with nothing at all added, though. This way you can serve some to the kids, too. In fact, when I showed up to the middle school Renaissance club party this year all I heard was, "Where's the wassail!" since I failed to bring it. It does indeed seem to make people happy (even without the alcohol!). My friend Mike takes us round the neighborhood caroling every year at his Christmas party, and while we don't bring the wassail bowl to share, it sure does taste fantastic coming in partially frozen afterwards.