Grim's Grub: What is that song about anyway?

A tradition that kept people singing in the cold.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

When I was a kid, there was some public access channel that had a Christmas lineup every year that never changed. It featured the same shows in the same order every year, but that's why we always watched it.

They showed "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman" and possibly "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The only baffling thing about it was that the channel saw a need for someone to "host" the event, almost like the old-school horror showcases.

The hosts for this event were a couple of dinosaurs (I think claymation, but maybe not), one who was very incompetent.

Illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.


I don't remember much about the prehistoric hosts, but I remember one of them was excited to go out caroling and waffling, as inspired by the less common Christmas carol, " Here We Come A-Waffling ." Well, that's "wassailing," not "waffling." The more intelligent of the two dinosaurs could not get that through his co-host's head. They likely made this joke because it was a kids show and wassailing inevitably involves alcohol.

Wassailing comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "waes hael" for "good health." The words are spoken as a toast before downing a bracing combination of mulled (heated) ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. So kind of an apple eggnog?

Traditionally, wassailing was done on the 12th night of Christmas, an important day that only occurred once a year where societies' roles were reversed during parties. Servants had one night of being pampered and served by their masters, and good will toward others was on tap. So this was the day where if you visited your neighbors, you were likely to find them set up for guests with food and, of course, the wassail.

Traditionally there would also be a cake, and a single dried pea or bean was cooked into it. The finder of the pea was crowned the Lord or Lady of Misrule, and they became king for the night.

Being one of the most generous and exciting nights of the year, eventually this became the night when carolers strolled from home to home singing. They had a strong incentive to do so because there was a good chance the homes they visited would have wassail to make them more merry and warm them up for their trek to the next house.

Eventually, wassail included other hot beverages, likely alcoholic, mulled ciders and mulled wines, maybe hot toddies - anything to make the carolers feel warm. Most recipes now are a combination of apple, orange and lemon juice with mulling spices. The flavor isn't too different from what is now known as Russian tea.

It's pretty uncommon for carolers to go house to house anymore, and even less likely that they will be invited in for warm alcohol. But at least now, if you were as baffled as I was by those dinosaurs, you will know the story of wassailing.

Now you just need to know how to make it, maybe minus the eggs.


Traditional Wassail

Wassail hot cocktail with spices. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Courtesy of

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1/2 cup brandy, optional

Mix juices, sugar and seasonings together and add the brandy if you're including it. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil in a large saucepan or pot and boil for one minute. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve it hot with sliced oranges floating in the punch bowl.
Powdered Wassail

A combination of powdered apple cider mix, along with orange and lemonade drink mixes with mulling spices. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Inspired by Russian tea


  • 16 pouches Alpine apple cider powder
  • 6 tablespoons orange drink mix
  • 6 tablespoons lemonade drink mix
  • 1 red hot per individual cup
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Boiling water

Combine all the powders and spices in a sealable container and mix well. Shake the container before using the powder. Heat some water using your preferred method and add 1-2 tablespoons of the powdered mix and one red hot candy.
Mulled Cider

Mulled cider with cinnamon, cloves, anise and citrus. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 oranges, sliced thin
  • Spiced rum or brandy (traditional but optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large pot or crockpot, reserving half of an orange for garnish. Bring to a simmer and then reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes to infuse the flavors. Serve while hot with slices of orange and a cinnamon stick in each mug.
Mulled Wine

Mulled wine or gluhwein with spices and orange slices. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Courtesy of

  • 1 750 milliliter bottle of dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup brandy or orange liqueur
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 2-4 tablespoons of sweetener of your choice

Combine all ingredients, but only 2 tablespoons of sweetener at first, and cook on medium-high heat until it reaches a simmer. Try not to let it bubble or you will boil off the alcohol. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or up to 3 hours. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Taste and add more sweetener if needed and then serve.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at


Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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