By Educational Programs Coordinator Tara Owens
‘Tis the season for holiday parties, and no party would be complete without punch. This party staple is more than just a mere thirst quencher. In fact, punch has a rather interesting history. The exact origin of punch is debatable, but the most popular theory is that 16th-century British soldiers discovered the drink while in India. The word punch is said to derive from the Hindi word ‘paanstch’ meaning ‘five,’ implying an alcoholic concoction made from five key elements – Sweet, Sour, Alcohol, Water, and Spice. Punch could have also originated as the shortened version of the word “puncheon,” which refers to a wooden cask that holds 70 to 80 gallons.
Another take on the origins of punch dates back to the Anglo-Saxons of early Germany who would give a toast of “waes haeil,” literally meaning “be healthy,” while drinking a heavily spiced mead or ale punch. This tradition, in conjunction with the Pagan festival of Wassail, developed into the tradition of Wassailing. It was likely brought to England by the Anglo-Saxons and, over time, Wassailing became associated with Christmas. In the early days of the Christian Church, Christmas was not an observed holiday but Wassailing was. Wassail was celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6; this Twelfth Night celebration now commemorates the adoration of the Magi before the infant Jesus.
Punch is regarded as the first cocktail drink, and whether it dates back to the first millennium or the 16th century, has been making an appearance at parties ever since.