We Wish You a Merry Christmas

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Instrumental version of Kevin MacLeod

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is an English Christmas carol from the West Country of England.


The Bristol-based composer, conductor and organist Arthur Warrell[1] is responsible for the popularity of the carol. Warrell arranged the tune for his own University of Bristol Madrigal Singers, and performed it with them in concert on December 6, 1935.[2] That same year, his elaborate four-part arrangement was published by Oxford University Press, under the title "A Merry Christmas: West Country traditional song".[3]

Warrell's arrangement is notable for using "I" instead of "we" in the words; the first line is "I wish you a Merry Christmas". It was subsequently republished in the collection Carols for Choirs (1961), and remains widely performed.[4]

The earlier history of the carol is unclear. It is absent from the collections of West-countrymen Davies Gilbert (1822 and 1823)[5] and William Sandys (1833),[6] as well as from the great anthologies of Sylvester (1861)[7] and Husk (1864).[8] It is also missing from The Oxford Book of Carols (1928). In the comprehensive New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), editors Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott describe it as "English traditional" and "[t]he remnant of an envoie much used by wassailers and other luck visitors"; no source or date is given.[9]


The greeting "a merry Christmas and a happy New Year" is recorded from the early eighteenth century.[10]

A closely related verse, dating from the 1830s, runs:

We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy new year;
A pocket full of money,
And a cellar full of beer.[11][12]

It was sung by "mummers" – i.e. children who would go about singing from door to door to request gifts. An example is given in the short story The Christmas Mummers (1858) by Charlotte Yonge:

When at last they were all ready, off they marched, with all the little boys and girls running behind them; and went straight to Farmer Buller’s door, where they knew they should find a welcome. They all stood in a row, and began to sing as loud as they were able:
I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year,
A pantryful of good roast-beef,
And barrels full of beer.[13]

After they are allowed in and perform a Mummers play, the boys are served beer by the farmer's maid.[14]

Other sources show this greeting as current in different parts of England during the nineteenth century.[15][16][17]

The origin of this Christmas carol lies in the English tradition wherein wealthy people of the community gave Christmas treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve, such as "figgy pudding" that was very much like modern-day Christmas puddings.[18][19][20] A variety of nineteenth-century sources state that, in the West Country of England, "figgy pudding" referred to a raisin or plum pudding, not necessarily one containing figs.[21][22][23]

Modern usage[edit]

Variations to the song's lyrics are common,[citation needed] the song typically runs:

Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

Another version, common in the USA, is:

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arthur Sydney Warrell, born Farmborough, 1883, died Bristol, 1939. Served as organist and choirmaster and several Bristol churches. Subsequently, taught music at Bristol University and founded the Bristol University Choir, Orchestra, and Madrigal Singers. See Humphreys, Maggie; Robert Evans (1997). Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland. London: Mansell. p. 351. ISBN 0-7201-2330-5.
  2. ^ "Music and Drama". Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. Bristol. 154 (25, 920): 4. 1935-12-06.
  3. ^ Warrell, Arthur (arr.) (1935). A Merry Christmas. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019340530X.
  4. ^ In the Carols for Choirs reprint, but not in the 1935 original, the option of replacing "I wish you a Merry Christmas" by the more common "We wish you a Merry Christmas" is given
  5. ^ Gilbert, Davies (1822). Some ancient Christmas Carols, with the Tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England (PDF). London: J. Nichols and Son.
  6. ^ Sandys, William (1833). Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. London: Richard Beckley.
  7. ^ Sylvester, Joshua, ed. (1861). A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. London: John Camden Hotten. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t93779d3t.
  8. ^ Husk, William Henry (ed.) Songs of the Nativity, London: John Camden Hotten, 1864.
  9. ^ Keyte, Hugh; Parrott, Andrew, eds. (1992). The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 529.
  10. ^ "a merry X'mas and a happy New Year", letter of Samuel Goodman dated December 20th 1710, in Letters to Fort St. George: vol. xii (1711). Madras: Government Press. 1931. p. 3.
  11. ^ "untitled [Welcome given by the people of Llandyssil to the newly-married Mr and Mrs John Glynne Mytton on December 31st 1835]". North Wales Chronicle. Bangor. ix (451): 4. 1836-02-16.
  12. ^ "The 'Compliments of the Season;' and 'Obliging Inquiries'". Mayo Constitution. Castlebar. xxv: 4. 1834-01-23.
  13. ^ Yonge, Charlotte (1858). The Christmas Mummers. London: Mozley. p. 87.
  14. ^ Yonge, Charlotte (1858). The Christmas Mummers. London: Mozley. p. 93.
  15. ^ "Notes: Christmas Carols". Derbyshire Times: 3. 1872-12-28. [W]hen little children came round to our doors, and lisped their Christmas greeting, the which seems to have sadly degenerated into a scuttling round the first thing on Christmas-morn and a shouting at the doors of:
    A wish you a merry Christmas
    An' a happy New Year
    A pocket full o' money
    A cellar full o' beer.
    A' apple an' a pear
    An' a plum an' a cherry
    An' a sup o' good ale
    Ter mak' a man merry.
    A horse an' a gig
    An' a good fat pig
    To sarve y'all th' year.
  16. ^ Burne, Charlotte Sophia, ed. (1883). Shropshire Folk-Lore. London: Trübner & Co. p. 317. I wish you a merry Christmas, a happy New Year,
    A pocket full of money, and a cellar full of beer;
    A good fat pig to last you all the year.
    Please to give me a New Year's gift.
  17. ^ Kidson, Frank (1888-12-15). "Christmas Melodies: The Carols of the Season". Weekly Supplement to the Leeds Mercury. Leeds (15817): 1. The special form of asking for Christmas-boxes generally runs in rhyme, and varied in different parts of the country. That in Leeds, which is bellowed in a quick, hoarse voice through the keyhole, is:
    I wish you a merry Kersmas,
    A happy New Year,
    A pocket full of money,
    A barrel full o' beer,
    A big fat pig to serve you all t'year,
    Please will you give us my Kersmas-box.
  18. ^ Brech, Lewis (2010). "Storybook Advent Carols Collection Songbook". p. 48. Couples Company, Inc,
  19. ^ Lester, Meera (2007). "Why Does Santa Wear Red?: And 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped" p.146. Adams Media,
  20. ^ "We Wish You a Merry Christmas! - Christmas Songs of England". Retrieved December 11, 2010
  21. ^ "A 'figgy pudding'; a pudding with raisins in it; a plum pudding", from "Devonshire and Cornwall Vocabulary", The Monthly Magazine vol. 29/6, no. 199, June 1, 1810. p. 435
  22. ^ "Plum-pudding and plum-cake are universally called figgy pudding and figgy cake in Devonshire", from Lady, A (1837). A dialogue in the Devonshire dialect, by a lady: to which is added a glossary, by J.F. Palmer. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman. p. 46.
  23. ^ "Figgy Pudding ... the ordinary name for plum-pudding. Also a baked batter pudding with raisins in it", Elworthy, Frederic Thomas (1875). The Dialect of West Somerset. London: Trübner & Co. pp. 252.