Voices in the Coalshed: Wassail Cups
Home / Voices in the Coalshed / Voices in the Coalshed: Wassail Cups

Voices in the Coalshed: Wassail Cups

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? With decorations? Or baubles? Or Wassail Cups?

If you are asking yourself what Wassail (or Wessel) Cups are then you have not heard of this name for the delicate glass ornaments which hang from a Christmas Tree’s branches.

Some believe that the tradition of decorating a tree originated with the ancient tradition of Wassailing. Groups of people, Wassailers, would go from home-to-home entertaining families and would be given Wass Ale, warm ale or cider flavoured with spices.

It is thought that this was pre-Christian. The ale was probably served in silver cups which were then hung from the evergreen branches used to decorate people’s homes.

It’s only a short step from silver cups, to coloured glass cups, to coloured glass baubles on our Christmas trees.

Originally these glass decorations came from Germany but in the December 1949 issue of Coal Magazine (Coal magazine (NCB), Dec. 1949, p17) you will find an article about a group of women from Cudworth who were making wassail cups in an old Yorkshire farmhouse.

The use of the term ‘wessel cups’ rather than baubles is interesting in that it seems to remain only in Yorkshire, in fact, only in the towns local to the mining museum itself – and in particular Wakefield that the term is used.

Why is that? I have no idea. If you know we’d love to hear from you.

You can read the digitised Coal Magazine on the museum’s website.