The Wassail Bowldetails

[Picture: The Wassail Bowl]

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The Wassail Bowl

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A bearded man in a tall hat and cravat, eighteenth or early nineteenth century leggings, and with a garland round his head reclines, one hand raised. Nearby, in the undergrowth and sitting on a rock, a short but well-muscled man, barefoot, naked but for a garland of flowers and leaves round his waist, holds a huge bowl. The small man wears a large comical hat of leaves and flowers and has a red nose.

This appears to conflate the loving-cup of the spring with the wassail bowl of winter; even with lots of heart ale it can be difficult to be nude in the snow and wind of winter. This is also Christmas before the red-dresse Santa, because the picture dates from 1856 or earlier. However, comare December from William Hone’s 1826 Everyday Book, where we see a drunk old bearded man (the year past) riding a goat and carrying the wassail bowl.

All hail to thee, January—all hail! cold and wintery as thou art—full of ice and snow—of cold fingers and cold noses—of bare boughs and hard pathways—yet thou art not hard, nor cold, nor bare, after all—but full of genial warmth— good thoughts—good things, and merry doings. Come about me, all ye little schoolboys, that have escaped from the necessary hard thraldom of your task-work, with your untamed hearts shouting in your own musical voices, and your laughing spirits dancing in untaught measure in your eyes. Come and help me to make up my Wassail Bowl—come with all your variety of good things—come with your best of all holiday greetings—with your gifts and rejoicings, and your loud laughs and hallos—with your many happy relations—with your plum-puddings and mince pies—with your twelfth-cakes, kings, queens, and caricatures—with your forfeits and fortune-tellings—with your quirps, your jokes, and your conundrums—with blindman’s buff—and your sitting up after supper—with your patomimes and panoramas, and new penknives and Parley’s Annuals—come with old Peter Parley, and let us make up our Wassail Bowl.

And what shall be our Wassail Bowl? The old Wassail was a bowl of good ale, with apples and spice, and they used to sing:—

“Wassail, Wassail, over the town,

Our toast is white and our ale is brown;

Our bowl is made of a maplen tree,

e be all good fellows and drink to thee.”

But ours shall be the Wassail Bowl and the “Loving Cup,” one and the same; for the Loving Cup was the ancient Wassail Bowl. The warmth of the spice and the glow of the ale was to testify to the warmth of the heart and the glow of the soul—while in it was drowned all evil thoughts, feelings, and animosities—and good health, and good cheer, and good luck, to all our friends and neighbours. (pp. 2-3)


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