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[wos-uh l, -eyl, was-, wo-seyl] /ˈwɒs əl, -eɪl, ˈwæs-, wɒˈseɪl/
a salutation wishing health to a person, used in England in early times when presenting a cup of drink or when drinking to the person.
a festivity or revel with drinking of healths.
liquor for drinking and wishing health to others on festive occasions, especially spiced ale, as on Christmas Eve and Twelfth-night.
Archaic. a song sung in wassailing.
verb (used without object)
to revel with drinking.
verb (used with object)
to drink to the health or success of; toast.
Origin of wassail
1175-1225; Middle English was-hail, equivalent to was be (Old English wæs, variant of wes, imperative of wesan to be; akin to was) + hail hale1, in good health (< Old Norse heill hale); replacing Old English wæs hāl be hale or whole. See whole, heal
Related forms
wassailer, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for wassail
Historical Examples
  • We regaled him with wassail and gramophone and explained the situation to him.

  • The wassail bowl was a triumph, and the candle of Mr. Pickwick was put out.

    Peter and Jane S. (Sarah) Macnaughtan
  • At Aberford, near Leeds, two dolls were carried about in boxes in a similar manner, and they were called "wesley (wassail) boxes."

  • The rafters of the great living-room shook with the roar of wassail and of song.

    Lost Face Jack London
  • The wassail bowl is placed on a small round table, and each person present is furnished with a silver spoon to stir.

  • Where is the silver plate—the wassail bowls and our silver-gilt chargers?

    The Young Cavalier Percy F. Westerman
  • It was the evening of Christmas-day, and the tide of wassail, the blaze of yule, were high at Ridgeley.

    At Last Marion Harland
  • To whom it was answered by Hengist, that wassail, what it signifieth.

  • But the last day of 1848 saw no wassail bowl in Szolnok, no hospitable meetings to hail the new-born year.

  • Now, as then, the company was defeating tedium with wassail.

    When 'Bear Cat' Went Dry Charles Neville Buck
British Dictionary definitions for wassail


(formerly) a toast or salutation made to a person at festivities
a festivity when much drinking takes place
alcoholic drink drunk at such a festivity, esp spiced beer or mulled wine
the singing of Christmas carols, going from house to house
(archaic) a drinking song
to drink the health of (a person) at a wassail
(intransitive) to go from house to house singing carols at Christmas
Derived Forms
wassailer, noun
Word Origin
C13: from Old Norse ves heill be in good health; related to Old English wes hāl; see hale1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for wassail

mid-12c., from Old Norse ves heill "be healthy," a salutation, from ves, imperative of vesa "to be" (see was) + heill "healthy" (see health). Use as a drinking phrase appears to have arisen among Danes in England and spread to native inhabitants. A similar formation appears in Old English wes þu hal, but this is not recorded as a drinking salutation. Sense extended c.1300 to "liquor in which healths were drunk," especially spiced ale used in Christmas Eve celebrations. Meaning "a carousal, reveling" first attested c.1600. Wassailing "custom of going caroling house to house at Christmas time" is recorded from 1742.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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