One of the earliest English carols says:
Lordings, Christmas loves good drinking,
Wines of Gascoigne, France, Anjou,
English ale that drives out thinking,
Prince of liquors old or new.
Every neighbour shares the bowl,
Drinks of the spicy liquor deep,
Drinks his fill without control,
Till he drowns his care in sleep.
And now — by Christmas, jolly soul!
By this mansion’s generous sire!
By this wine, and by this bowl,
And all the joys they both inspire!
Here I’ll drink a health to all,
The glorious task shall first be mine:
And ever may foul luck befall
Him that to pledge me shall decline!
Christmas has ben associated with festive drinking since the time of the late Roman Empire and every nation that celebrates Christmas brings to it its own favourite Christmas beverage. In England the wassail bowl was full at Christmas with ale, roasted apples and spices, served hot. Ale was referred to once as “nog” and when the Americans adopted the French “lait de poule”, a drink with eggs, sugar and milk, they added liquor to make the modern eggnog. Christmas is Scandinavia is fuelled by glögg, a spiced wine similar to the glühwein which warms Germans and Austrians. In Ecuador they drink canelazo, a hot drink made of spiced tea and an anise-flavored brandy. Sorrel is the basis of the Jamaican Christmas drink. Rum punches gladden the heart of the Caribbean and Central America while in Denmark drinkers reach for special Christmas varieties of beer and schnapps. In Norway the best Christmas akevitt is that which has been transported in ship’s barrels twice across the Equator. Champagne is drunk on holiday occasions around the world (though Spaniards seem to prefer their own sparkling wine called cava.)
Whatever the beverage of choice drinking at Christmas symbolizes conviviality, hospitality and a celebration of relaxation from work. It also means that drinking to excess is a Yule-time problem and police forces around the world have special holiday enforcement of drinking-and-driving laws.