The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Wassail Song

Version 1
Compare: The Wassail Song - Version 2

See generally Wassailing - Notes On The Songs

Alternate Titles: "Here We Come A Wassailing," "Here We Come A-Caroling," and "Here We Go A-Caroling."

Words: English Traditional, 17th century

Music: Traditional English Wassail Song, 17th century
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Source: Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, Second Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1871), Carol #37

1. Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.

Chorus
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.

2. Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley. Chorus

3. We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before. Chorus

4. Good Master and good Mistress,
As you sit by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Are wandering in the mire. Chorus

5. We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;1
We want some of your small change2
To line it well within. Chorus

6. Call up the Butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer,
And the better we shall sing. Chorus

7. Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf. Chorus

8. God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go. Chorus

1. Bramley and Stainer add a footnote explaining that ratching is leather that will stretch. Shaw and Dearmer, in The English Carol Book, First Series, substitute the word stretching, as does Rickert. Return

2. Joshua Sylvester has "We want a little of your money." Return

Sheet Music from Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1871)

Wassail_Song_37a.gif (455961 bytes)

Wassail_Song_37b.gif (397046 bytes)

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol 670
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF (Yorkshire)

Here_We_Come_AWassailing_670.gif (159604 bytes)

Sheet Music from Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, First Series (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1913), Carol #14 (Two Tunes)

Martin Shaw in The English Carol Book, First Series, adds the following note to this tune:

The above beautiful traditional tune was sung in the streets of Leeds in the 'fifties of last century by my father, the late James Shaw, from whom I learnt it. It is, of course, much older than that. I have never seen it in print. The Rev. J. T. Horton, a Bradford parson, tells me that the tune is still well known and often sung by Christmas waits in the West Riding.

Public Domain Recording:

This is among the best known of the traditional wassail songs, and was well-known throughout England in the middle 19th century. It's roots, however, could go back even further. The editors of The Oxford Book of Carols (OBC) state that Ritson in Ancient Songs and Carols (1829), may have copied from a source in the reigns of James 1 (1566-1625) or Charles 1 (1600-1649). As such, they suggest that Shakespeare (1564-1616) may have heard this song sung outside of his house at Christmas.

The OBC gives the following order: 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 7, 8, 4; text was from Husk's Songs of the Nativity, 1868. The editors suggest that verses 2 and 6 (as above) "are not suitable when the carol is sung in church, but they give a vivid picture of the Waits of old times." Ian Bradley in The Penguin Book of Carols gives the same order, citing the same source (but giving the date of 1864).

The OBC adds this additional "good-bye" verse in lieu of verse 8 (from Ritson's Ancient Songs and Ballads, 1829):

And all your kin and kinsfolk.
That dwell both far and near;
I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year. Chorus

Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs and Carols From The Reign of King Henry the Second To The Revolution. 1790. W. Carew Hazlitt, ed., Third Edition. London: Reeves And Turner, 1877. Repr. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree Press, 1968.

In this third edition, at page 354, we find:

A Christmas Carol

God bless the master of this house,
    The mistress, also,
And all the little children,
    That round the table go:

And all you kin and kinsfolk,
    That dwell both far and near;
I wish you a merry Christmas,
    And a happy new year.

It would seem, thus, that one can have one's cake, and eat it, too.

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), pp. 204-206.

A RUDELY printed paper of Carols affords us the following little piece. As it does not bear any evidence of a distinguished origin, no attempt has been made to discover the author. Its allusions to customs gone by, however, and a certain quaint simplicity, which we may seek for in vain in the compositions of the educated, will, perhaps, be deemed sufficient apologies for its insertion. The date is apparently some time in the beginning of the last century, although the last verse but one may be observed in the little Carol entitled " God bless the master of this house," given at page 174, and which, Ritson says, is as old as the time of James I. Many of these broadside Carols, doubtless, contain scraps of still earlier compositions.

Editor's Note: The orders of verses differs from above: 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 7, 8, 4. Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

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. Its appearance so recently seems to furnish presumptive evidence of the custom of Wassailing, or, at least, some remains of it, being still in existence in the West Riding of the great northern country. It seems also to have attained some popularity in the adjoining county of Lancaster, having been printed, under the title of a "Wessel Cup Hymn," in a chap-book printed at Manchester, called "A Selection of Christmas Hymns," whence it has been transferred to Mr. Harland's recently published volume of "The Ballads and Songs of Lancashire."

Although the carol may in the main be of no great antiquity, it is observable that the penultimate verse is identical with the commencement of a short carol printed by Ritson [A Christmas Carol] as of the time of James or Charles I. May single verses, or even shorter fragments of early compositions, have, there can be no doubt, been handed down by oral repetition, and eventually embodied in modern carols.

Editor's Note: Husk has the same verses as Bramley & Stainer, but in a different order: 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 7, 8, 4 (the same as Sylvester and Rickert). Shaw and Dearmer have the following order: 1, 3, 5, 8, 4.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 253, with the title The Wassailers' Carol. She gives the verses in the following order: 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 7, 8, 4 (the same as Sylvester and Husk). Her general note on wassail songs, page 301:

    "The oldest carol known (cf. Appendix I. p. 132 - Seignors Ore Entendez Nus), although Anglo-Norman, embodies the Saxon phrases used in pledging. The former of these has survived in the refrain of the initial carol of this group (Wassail, Wassail, Out of the Milk Pail), which is otherwise highly religious. In the seventeenth century the wassail was a definite institution - the carrying about of a bowl of spiced ale from house to house to drink healths in expectation of a contribution. Nowadays the utterance of a "Merry Christmas' is often judged sufficient for the tip. Some of the poems here included are mere drinking-songs, but they were probably sung as carols at Christmas."

Wassail songs included by Rickert include:


 

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