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We Wish You a Merry Christmas

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is an English Christmas carol, listed as numbers 230 and 9681 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The famous version of the carol is from the English West Country.


The Bristol-based composer, conductor and organist Arthur Warrell (1883–1939)[1] is responsible for the popularity of the carol. Warrell, a lecturer at the University of Bristol from 1909,[2] arranged the tune for his own University of Bristol Madrigal Singers as an elaborate four-part arrangement, which he performed with them in concert on December 6, 1935.[3] His composition was published by Oxford University Press the same year under the title "A Merry Christmas: West Country traditional song".[4]

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.[5]

The popular version begins as follows:

We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.[6]

Many traditional versions of the song have been recorded, some of which replace the last line with "Good tidings for Christmas and a happy new year". In 1971, Roy Palmer recorded George Dunn of Quarry Bank, Staffordshire singing a version close to the famous one, which had a familiar version of the chorus, but used the song "Christmas Is Coming" as the verses; this recording can be heard on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website.[7] Amy Ford of Low Ham, Somerset sang a version called "The Singers Make Bold" to Bob and Jacqueline Patten in 1973[8] which again used a similar chorus to the famous version and can be heard via the British Library Sound Archive.[9] There are several supposedly traditional recordings which follow the famous version exactly, but these are almost certainly derived from Arthur Warrell's arrangement.[10]


Figgy pudding is referenced in the latter verses of the carol

The greeting "a merry Christmas and a happy New Year" is recorded from the early eighteenth century;[11] however, the history of the carol itself is unclear. Its origin probably 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;[12][13][14] in the West Country of England, "figgy pudding" referred to a raisin or plum pudding, not necessarily one containing figs.[15][16][17] In the famous version of the song, the singer demands figgy pudding from the audience, threatening to not "go until we get some".[10]

The song is absent from the collections of West-countrymen Davies Gilbert (1822 and 1823)[18] and William Sandys (1833),[19] as well as from the great anthologies of Sylvester (1861)[20] and Husk (1864),[21] and 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.[22] The famous version of the song was completely unknown outside the West Country before Arthur Warrell popularised it.[2]

"Cellar full of beer" variant


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.[23][24]

It was sung by mummers – townsfolk 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.[25]

After they are allowed in and perform a Mummers play, the boys are served beer by the farmer's maid.[26]

Various sources place this version of the song in different parts of England during the nineteenth century.[27][28][29] Several versions survived into the twentieth century and were recorded by folk song collectors in England, such as those of George Dunn[30] and Mary Evans[31] of Quarry Bank, Staffordshire (both recorded in 1971), as well as Miss J. Howman of Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire (1966),[32] all of which are publicly available online courtesy of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. These versions use completely different tunes to the now famous West Country variant.

See also



  1. ^ Arthur Sydney Warrell, born Farmborough, 1883, died Bristol, 1939. Served as organist and choirmaster at 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. ^ a b Byrne, Eugene (2019-12-24). "Arguably most famous Christmas song was written by a Bristolian". BristolLive. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  3. ^ "Music and Drama". Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. 154 (25, 920). Bristol: 4. 1935-12-06.
  4. ^ Warrell, Arthur (arr.) (1935). A Merry Christmas. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019340530X.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Garno, Gerard (2018). Ancient Christmas Music for Acoustic Guitar. Publisher:Mel Bay Publications. p. 238.
  7. ^ "Christmas Rhymes (Roud Folksong Index S231282)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
  8. ^ "The Singers Make Bold (Roud Folksong Index S415287)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
  9. ^ "The singers make bold – Bob and Jacqueline Patten English Folk Music Collection – World and traditional music | British Library – Sounds". sounds.bl.uk. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
  10. ^ a b "'We Wish You a Merry Christmas': what are the lyrics and who wrote the carol?". Classic FM. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ Brech, Lewis (2010). "Storybook Advent Carols Collection Songbook". p. 48. Couples Company, Inc,
  13. ^ Lester, Meera (2007). "Why Does Santa Wear Red?: And 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped" p.146. Adams Media,
  14. ^ "We Wish You a Merry Christmas! – Christmas Songs of England". Retrieved December 11, 2010
  15. ^ "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
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ Gilbert, Davies (1822). Some ancient Christmas Carols, with the Tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England. London: J. Nichols and Son.
  19. ^ Sandys, William (1833). Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. London: Richard Beckley.
  20. ^ Sylvester, Joshua, ed. (1861). A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. London: John Camden Hotten. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t93779d3t.
  21. ^ Husk, William Henry (ed.) Songs of the Nativity, London: John Camden Hotten, 1864.
  22. ^ Keyte, Hugh; Parrott, Andrew, eds. (1992). The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 529.
  23. ^ "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. ix (451). Bangor: 4. 1836-02-16.
  24. ^ "The 'Compliments of the Season;' and 'Obliging Inquiries'". Mayo Constitution. xxv. Castlebar: 4. 1834-01-23.
  25. ^ Yonge, Charlotte (1858). The Christmas Mummers. London: Mozley. p. 87. hdl:2027/wu.89016071219.
  26. ^ Yonge, Charlotte (1858). The Christmas Mummers. London: Mozley. p. 93. hdl:2027/wu.89016071219.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ Burne, Charlotte Sophia, ed. (1883). Shropshire Folk-Lore. London: Trübner & Co. p. 317. hdl:2027/inu.39000005759647. 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.
  29. ^ Kidson, Frank (1888-12-15). "Christmas Melodies: The Carols of the Season". Weekly Supplement to the Leeds Mercury (15817). Leeds: 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.
  30. ^ "Open the Door (Roud Folksong Index S247999)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  31. ^ "We Wish You Merry Christmas (Roud Folksong Index S415452)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  32. ^ "We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Roud Folksong Index S415451)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 2020-11-06.