Wassail, a hot mulled punch usually made with cider and sometimes with ale, has been part of British Christmastime festivities for hundreds of years. In the eighteenth century, it was the custom to invite friends and neighbors to play cards and to enjoy dinner together on Twelfth Night. The wassail bowl, full of roasted apples in sweet spiced cider or ale, was brought in at the end of the evening. First, each person scooped out an apple and ate it, and then the bowl was passed around the room and everyone would drink from it and wish one another good health.
By the era of Downton Abbey, the practice of drinking wassail had moved to Christmas and the roasted apples served only as flavoring and decoration. In season 5, episode 9, we see the kitchen table fully laden with the Christmas food preparations. Daisy is carefully preparing the turkey, and the footmen are in charge of transferring the wassail from copper kettles dotted with apples to glass punch bowls. Later, after singing carols by the Christmas tree, everyone helps themselves, ladling wassail into their glass cups.