Here We Come A-wassailing
Here We Come A-wassailing (or Here We Come A-caroling), also known as Here We Come A-Christmasing, Wassail Song and by many other names, is a traditional English Christmas carol and New Year song, typically sung whilst wassailing, or singing carols, wishing good health and exchanging gifts door to door. It is listed as number 209 in the Roud Folk Song Index. Gower Wassail and Gloucestershire Wassail are similar wassailing songs.
History and context
The song dates from at least the mid 19th century, but is probably much older. The a- in "a-wassailing" is an archaic intensifying prefix; compare A-Hunting We Will Go and lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas (e.g., "Six geese a-laying").
According to Readers Digest; "the Christmas spirit often made the rich a little more generous than usual, and bands of beggars and orphans used to dance their way through the snowy streets of England, offering to sing good cheer and to tell good fortune if the householder would give them a drink from his wassail bowl or a penny or a pork pie or, let them stand for a few minutes beside the warmth of his hearth. The wassail bowl itself was a hearty combination of hot ale or beer, apples, spices and mead, just alcoholic enough to warm tingling toes and fingers of the singers."
A variant is "Here We Come A-Christmasing". It replaces the word "wassail" with "Christmas".
There are also other variants (often, but not always, sung by Americans), wherein the first verse is sung "Here we come a-caroling" and it is titled so. Often in this version, the third verse (directly after the first refrain [see lyrics]) is removed, along with the refrain that follows it, but this depends on which version is being used. This version also often has the second line of the chorus "And a merry Christmas too" or "And to you glad tidings too", instead of "And to you your wassail too".
Another variant is entitled "We've Been a While-A-Wandering" and "Yorkshire Wassail Song".
Traditional collected versions
Hundreds of versions of wassailing songs have been collected, including dozens of variants collected by Cecil Sharp from the 1900s to the 1920s, mostly in the south of England. Many of the traditional versions that have been collected and recorded are not of the "Here We Come A-wassailing" variant; the following examples are similar to the now famous version:
- Emily Bishop of Bromsberrow Heath, Gloucestershire (1952)
- Dorothy Davey of Hull, Yorkshire (1969), available on the British Library Sound Archive website.
- Geogre Dunn of Quarry Bank, Staffordshire (1971), available online via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library
- Frank Hinchliffe of Sheffield, Yorkshire (1976)
- Edith Fitzpatrick James of Ashland, Kentucky (1934)
- Jean Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky (1949), available online as part of the Alan Lomax archive.
As with most carols, there are several related versions of the words. One version is presented below, based on the text given in the New Oxford Book of Carols. The verses are sung in 6/8 time, while the chorus switches to 2/2.
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.
Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.
Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.
We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.
Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.
God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.
This song has been performed by:
- The Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler
- Perry Como and the Ray Charles Singers in a medley with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
- The Ray Conniff singers
- The Norman Luboff Choir on its 1956 album Songs of Christmas
- Alvin and the Chipmunks on their 1963 album Christmas with The Chipmunks, Vol. 2
- Harry Secombe on his 1966 album My Favourite Carols
- Canadian Brass as an instrumental version on its 1985 album A Canadian Brass Christmas
- The cast of Sesame Street in A Muppet Family Christmas
- The cast of the 1987 Christmas Special A Claymation Christmas Celebration
- The King's Singers on their 1989 album A Little Christmas Music
- The Roches on their 1990 album "We Three Kings"
- Blur recorded an edition in 1992.
- Kate Rusby on her 2008 album Sweet Bells
- The Boy Least Likely To on their 2010 album Christmas Special
- Hawk Nelson on their 2011 album "Hawk Nelson Christmas"
- Blackmore's Night on their 2020 EP "Here We Come A-Caroling"
- The Albion Band have recorded the song on several of their albums
- Anderson, Douglas D. "The Wassail Song". Hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com. Archived from the original on 2019-04-07.
- "wassail." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Merriam-Webster Online. 19 December 2008 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wassail%5B2%5D>
- Husk, William Henry (1868). Songs of the Nativity. London: J.C. Hotten. p. 152.
- Dearmer, Percy (1984). The Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford University Press.
- Here We Come A-Caroling Readers Digest
- "Wassail Song (Roud Folksong Index S193918)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Search: rn209 cecil sharp". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
- "Wassail Song (Roud Folksong Index S224856)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Here We Come A-wassailing (Roud Folksong Index S334844)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Here we come a wassailing - Steve Gardham English Folk Music Collection - World and traditional music | British Library - Sounds". sounds.bl.uk. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Here We Come A-wasslin' (Roud Folksong Index S237732)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "We've Been a While A-wassailing (Roud Folksong Index S340466)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Search: rn209 usa". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
- "Wassail Song (Roud Folksong Index S265384)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "The Wassail Song (Roud Folksong Index S341721)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-27.
- "Alan Lomax Archive". research.culturalequity.org. Retrieved 2020-11-27.