Wassail refers to both the Norse/Old English salute of "you be healthy" and to the drink concoction made in the winter, dating back as far as the 1400s. The drink was passed around when a bunch of glorified beggars turned up at your door, or in your orchard chanting incantations and singing songs. Their payment, or their punishment was to be given "wassail" an ale or cider based spiced hot drink.
Sounds all lovely and Christmas like doesn't it? As you imagine their jolly rosy cheeked faces, quaffing from a Loving Cup, cheering and singing harmonious carols as the snow gently floats around them. Rather than desperate and starving peasants, turning up at their lord and masters door, squawking out a few random songs and being offered the dregs of the ale barrel maybe mixed with the rotten apple cider pressings, mixed with spices to mask the awfulness of the whole thing. Wassail, traditionally wasn't as you'd imagine, a deep rich sort of mulled wine, with pieces of orange floating on top.
More likely what would be served up was ale (possibly stale), a few roasted crab apples for flavour, some sugar a few spices (mask the sourness of the putrid ale and crab apples). Then often a beaten egg and even milk or cream was chucked in. And all topped off with slices of toasted bread. (Again the bread likely toasted to mask the fact it was stale.) Now that's a true traditional drink of wassail. Sound good? No? Probably not to the starving peasants either, but when you're battling through a winter foraging for whatever food you can find, because the strip of land you farm doesn't belong to you. And the the lord of the manor house takes most of what you produce in rent and taxes, a bowl of wassail would have seemed like a bit of a treat. Yay, for the English feudal system, and all the wonderful Christmas traditions that developed during it. *Does little jig around the house, while flogging a servant or two* Merry Christmas, and a wassail!!! Wassail!!! To you all.