What In The World Is Wassailing?

There are some songs that pop up on the radio this time of year that I have heard my entire life and that I have absolutely no idea what the song is about.  One, for instance, is “The Wassail Song.”  To start with I had no idea what “wassail” is.  According to the dictionary there are three  meanings of wassail: 1) an early English toast to someone’s health (OK); 2) a hot drink that is made with wine, beer, or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples and is traditionally served in a large bowl especially at Christmastime (yet the song says it is the neighborhood children who are out wassailing), and 3) riotous drinking or revelry (see comment on 2) above).

There was also an ancient rite of wassailing trees that was known in parts of England.  According to one of these traditions, the men of the village would go out into the orchards carrying the wassail bowl (see 2) above), to alternately serenade and “browbeat” the apple trees. There were songs, dances and libations (for tree and man alike) until finally, in frustration, the trees would be threatened with the axe if they did not produce well in the coming year.

So, in essence a song about underage drinking and threatening violence against trees which are, by the way, the “kindest things I know, they do no harm, they simply grow.”  Below are the complete lyrics for “The Wassail Song”  I think next time it pops up on the radio, instead of singing along, I will change the station…..

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.
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.

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

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.
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.

We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.
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.

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

God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
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.

Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.
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.

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