The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Words: English Traditional, 16th Century

Music: English Folk Song
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer

1. We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year!

Refrain
Good tidings we bring for you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2. Now bring us some figgy pudding,1
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
And a cup of good cheer! Refrain

3. We all like our figgy pudding;
We all like our figgy pudding;
We all like our figgy pudding;
With all its good cheer.2 Refrain

4. We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some
So bring it out here!3 Refrain

5. We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year!
And a Happy New Year! Refrain

1. Some versions: "We want some figgy pudding" and ends with "Please bring it right here!" or "And bring it us here!" Return

2. Or, "So bring it out here!" Return

3. Or, "So give it us here!" Return

One version includes "So bring some out here" as the last line for all verses.

Some versions swap the order of the 3rd and 4th verses.

A Modern Alternate 4th verse

4. We all know that Santa's coming,
We all know that Santa's coming,
We all know that Santa's coming,
And soon will be here. Refrain

Another Refrain:

Good tidings to you where ever you are;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

"Good tidings we bring to you and your kin" is one variant of the first line of the refrain. Another is "Good tidings we bring, to you and to yours." "Glad tidings" is also found for "Good tidings."

See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3:
We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jeff Turner

Notes:

This old luck song is said to come from the West of England in the 16th century, but almost nothing else is known of this song. It does not occur in any of the oldest sources to which I have access (that is, Kele, Gilbert, Sandys, Sylvestre, Husk, Bullen, Bramley & Stainer, Greene, The Oxford Book of Carols, etc.), but is regularly found in most modern collections of carols, and is very frequently heard during the Christmas-tide (although Keyte and Parrott feel that it is "in all too common use by modern doorstep carrolers."). Simon includes this as one of the songs found in the repertoire of the Waits.

As is the case with many old songs, there can be found a wide mixture in the selection of some individual words in the lyrics and the refrain, but there is rarely a sufficiently different version that would warrant another page. There are a couple of other versions that begin with the same first line, but are otherwise very different songs. See: We Wish You A Merry Christmas - Version 1 from Manx and We Wish You A Merry Christmas - Version 2 from Manx. A. H. Bullen also recorded a Wassailing Song whose first line was "We wish you merry Christmas, also a glad New Year." Finally, "We Wish You" is also the inspiration for a number of parodies such as We Wish You a Happy Halogen; there are other parodies that cannot be included in a family-safe web site.

There is a terrific version written by Mr. Willys Peck Kent and Ms. Emma Mueden who were teachers at the Ethical Cultural  School, New York, in the early years of the 20th century. This version is a "round":

||: We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
With a pocketful of money and a cellarful of beer,
And a good fat pig to last you all the year! :||

Henry Simon was a student at that school, and knew both Mr. Kent and Ms. Mueden. He wrote this note about the song:

I learned this round by rote in school some forty years ago. After writing it out from memory, I called Mr. Kent, who had taught it to me, to ask for its origin. He admitted to writing the music himself, the words having been supplied by a colleague, Miss Emma Mueden. He  didn't know where she got them. Maybe Miss Mueden wrote them herself. They are certainly expressive of her cordial personality.

Mr. Simon featured several other translations by Mr. Kent. This was the only contribution by Ms. Mueden that Mr. Simon included. To see the music, get a copy of A Treasury of Christmas Songs and Carols, edited by Henry W. Simon. 1st & 2nd eds. (Houghton Mifflin, 1955, 1973), p. 220. This updated information was the result of a kind letter of inquiry sent by Chuck from Evanston, Illinois, on December 7, 2010. Thanks, Chuck!

Luck Songs are more fully discussed in the context of the Wassail in “Wassailing! Notes On The Songs And Traditions.”

In 2010, this song was the "Carol of the Year" selected by Prof. William Studwell. Sadly, this is the last year that Bill will be selecting a Carol of the Year, as Bill passed on August 2, 2010. This is the text written by Joe King of Northern Illinois University, based on Bill's notes:

Carol of the Year series concludes
with ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’

Series ends on a downbeat with creator’s death

DeKalb, Ill. — The announcement of the 2010 Carol of the Year is tinged with sadness.

The planned end of the 25-year series arrives with the news that the creator of the series, William Studwell, did not live to see the project through to its final coda.

Studwell, who worked for 30 years as a library cataloger at Northern Illinois University, died Aug. 2, succumbing to lymphoma. The day before his death, at age 74, he dictated a letter to his daughter, Laura, of Aurora, providing the noteworthy details pertaining to his 2010 Carol of the Year, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

“It was very important to Dad to see this project through to completion,” says Laura Studwell, noting that her father was rightfully proud of his research and writing pertaining to carols.

His fascination with carols began with a pamphlet about “Silent Night,” created for a family member in 1972 as part of a “homemade Christmas.” That simple piece set him on a quest, one that consumed more than 6,000 hours of his life, Studwell once estimated. It took him deep into the stacks of libraries across the country. At one point, he had compiled a collection of more than 400 volumes to help him in his research.

His painstaking research provided insight into the stories behind the carols – legends that they were based upon, local flavors that crept into songs and insightful biographical tidbits about the authors. His essays illuminated the works.

The job was not always easy – especially since it was done almost completely pre-Internet.

“For 19th and 20th century works, you can usually find some documentation for a carol, but for 16th century stuff you are happy for any shred of information you find,” Studwell once said. He noted proudly that he was credited with documenting dozens of new facts about carols.

His researching skills earned him the admiration of his peers.

“He’s at the top of the list, in my estimation, of carol experts in the U.S. and perhaps even the world. When it came to learning the background of a carol, Bill was the go-to-guy,” says Ronald Clancy, another esteemed expert in the field of Christmas music. He admired Studwell’s work so much that he recruited him to fine-tune and re-edit the text for his nine-volume Millennium Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs and Carols.

Studwell’s contribution to the body of knowledge on carols, Clancy believes, will help ensure that they endure. “Carols have an interesting history, and he kept that alive. So much of the background of many songs was lost, but he shone a light on it. He helped keep these songs alive and vibrant.”

Doug Anderson, another leading expert in the field, and keeper of the website HymnsandcarolsofChristmas.com, shares Clancy’s admiration of Studwell. “His essays on the songs, composers and lyricists of carols are gems of research and composition,” he said in a tribute to Studwell posted on the website.

Ultimately, Studwell wrote four books about carols, edited 29 others and generated more than 50 journal articles on the topic.

Admiration of Studwell’s work likely would have been limited to a small circle of carol devotees had he not invented the Carol of the Year series. Starting in 1986, with “Carol of the Bells,” Studwell honored one carol each year, selecting a well-known Christmas song that was celebrating a significant anniversary of its publication.

The media ate it up. He was interviewed by radio stations across the country and his expertise was featured in publications ranging from small weeklies to the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. By the time of his death, he had been interviewed more than 600 times. He became a popular consultant on projects related to Christmas music, including advising on a recent version of “Scrooge” to ensure that the music was historically correct.

While he was most famous for his work on Christmas carols, Studwell was a prolific writer on other topics as well. He was considered a leading expert on college fight songs and state songs. He also wrote extensively on other musical genres he considered “underappreciated” including circus music, early rock ‘n’ roll and patriotic music. He also wrote several books devoted to classical music, as well as many, many academic papers relating to his field of library science.

Carols, however, were a passion for Studwell, who loved the Christmas season, says his daughter. The first few notes of any carol were an invitation to share information about the song from his encyclopedic memory.

His 2010 honoree, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” was selected, he said in the letter dictated shortly before his death, because it provided a fitting cap to the series.

“It is a natural last piece for focus, since it is frequently the final piece in carol performances sessions,” he said of the song, which was created 400 to 425 years ago, most likely in the West Country of England.

Even Studwell’s prodigious researching skills could unearth little more information on the song. Consequently, in his book “The Christmas Carol Reader,” he used his rumination on the piece as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of carols and why he loved them.

“Collectively, no other group of songs appears to have as much influence on Western civilization as do Christmas carols, especially in light of the relatively small number of significant carols that exist. Carols are not limited by age, education, life-style, beliefs, nationality or taste,” he wrote.

“For about one month of each year they strongly envelop all sectors of predominantly Christian nations, and even non-Christian areas are not exempt from their presence. A little song like ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’ therefore, can have an effect surpassing its intrinsic merits because of its continuing membership in the highly influential club of carols.”

Sources:

Keyte and Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

William L. Simon, ed., The Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest Association, revised 2003)

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995)

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