A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Modern-day Wassail, Medieval Cheer!

Despite all of my concerns -and the concerns of much of the Christian world- about the secularization of Christmas, it's good to keep in mind that many of our most beloved Christmas carols are not actually about baby Jesus, Mary, angels, shepherds, or wiseman. There are a good number of very old, very traditional carols about drinking, partying, and decorating public areas. For instance, In "Deck the Hall," does not the "Hall" originally refer to the Great Hall where the whole fiefdom might celebrate a few times a year? Perhaps I'm wrong about this -I'm neither a medievalist nor a musicologist- but I think when we translate "Hall" as "halls" we are missing the cultural context of the carol.

Few songs more clearly capture the holiday spirit than the carol "Here we come A-Wassailing," which, if I understand it correctly, essentially means, "Here we are going from door to door begging for a yummy alcoholic punch." True, the carol does promote love and joy and good cheer, but it does so in a way that may seem inherently irreligious: is holiday cheer found in a barrel of wassail? Surely not!

Maybe the fault, dear readers, lies not in the medieval wassailers, but in ourselves. My husband went through a phase in which he accused everyone of promoting an unhealthy sacred-secular dualism. I'm not sure it was always clear what he really meant, or what it would look like to NOT promote a sacred-secular dualism, but I'd like to suggest that currently, in America, Christmas is surrounded by such dualism. We are torn between celebrating it in a "secular" way with a materialistic focus, and celebrating it in a sacred way, with worship, fellowship, and caroling. Perhaps what we ought to do is to add a little alcohol to our fellowship (if it's not there already) and celebrate as the medievals did, by combining the task of bringing tidings of good news to the neighborhood (that is, caroling door to door) with the joy of partying down with such excellencies as mincemeat pie and wassail. After all, what better way to celebrate the Incarnation than by celebrating the joys of carnate bodies: good food, dancing, music, good things to smell, and the like?

I can't help you with the mincemeat pies, but I can tell you a modern-day (non-alcoholic)* wassail recipe. As the wassail is bubbling while I speak, I can't report on the quality of this holiday punch from, but I can recommend it's ease in preparation. (I had to scale the recipe down; the original version would be suitable only for a large crockpot.)

Crock-pot Wassail (for a medium-sized crockpot, at least 3 quarts)

2 quarts apple cider
2 cups orange juice
2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
12 whole cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon


1. Add all ingredients to a medium sized crock pot. Note: You might want to put the cloves and the cinnamon sticks in a spice bag (made of cheesecloth) so that you can remove before serving. Failing that (cheesecloth isn't always easy to find!) you can use a tea ball to hold the cloves. The cinnamon sticks will be much easier to fish out.

2. Cook on high for the first hour, then move the temperature to "low." You can leave it on low as long as you want. I would recommend 1 hour on high and at least 2 hours on low, or, if you want to leave it on low the whole time, 4 hours on low. Essentially, though, this drink is done as soon as it's warm enough to drink.

Enjoy your wassail, and Merry Christmas!

* You may wonder why I am endorsing a non-alcoholic wassail recipe, given my apparent theological preference for alcohol. Well, I wanted something the nephews could drink, didn't I? Be charitable towards those who don't or can't drink.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home