Here We Come A-wassailing
Here We Come A-wassailing (or Here We Come A-caroling) is an English traditional Christmas carol and New Year song, apparently composed c. 1850. The old English wassail song refers to 'wassailing', or singing carols door to door wishing good health, while the a- 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."
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.
A variant is known as "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 as such. Often in this version, the third verse (directly after the first refrain [see lyrics]) is removed, along with the refrain that follows it, however this depends on which version is being used.
Another variant is entitled "We've Been A While-A-Wandering" or "Yorkshire Wassail Song".
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 the 1987 Christmas Special A Claymation Christmas Celebration
- The King's Singers on their 1989 album A Little Christmas Music
- 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
- Hymns and Carols of Christmas
- William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868): "This carol is from a broadside printed at Bradford in Yorkshire within the last twenty years."
- "wassail." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Merriam-Webster Online. 19 December 2008 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wassail%5B2%5D>
- Here We Come A-Caroling Readers Digest