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Here We Come A-Wassailing

[ Roud 209 ; TYG 22 ; Ballad Index JRDF166 ; trad.]

A group of singers in Birmingham sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 1957 in the live Christmas Day broadcast on BBC Radio, Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year.

The Watersons sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 1965 on their first album, Frost and Fire. This recording was also included on the Topic CD sampler The Season Round and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A live version from a Christmas radio programme recorded in December 1980 at Crathorne Hall, Crathorne, North Yorkshire, was published in 2005 on the CD A Yorkshire Christmas. A.L. Lloyd noted on the Watersons' album:

At midwinter, ploughing time is near. It was the time when reassuring heroes went dancing and singing through the village with wishes for good luck and increase. If the wishes were to take effect, it was essential that the villagers make some kind of sacrifice. So the perambulating spell-worker would be given food or, later. money. Latter-day luck-visitors, singing their carols for bud and blossom and “cider running out of every gutter-hole”, expected nothing more than a few coppers for a Christmas booze-up. The melody of this widespread wassail song is a member of a vast and ancient tune-family, scattered across Europe as far as the Balkans, usually associated with the rites of midwinter.

George Dunn sang Here We Come A-Wasslin in a recording made by Bill Leader on 4-5 December 1971 which was published in 1975 on his eponymous Leader album George Dunn. Another recording made by Roy Palmer on 14 July 1971 was included in 2002 on Dunn's Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker.

Leas Nicholson sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 1971 on his Trailer album Horsemusic.

John Tams sang this song with quite different verses on the title track of the Albion Dance Band's 1977 TV programme Here We Come A-Wassailing. This recording was first published in 1990 on the cassette Songs from the Shows Volume 1 and included in 2000 on the compilation CD Along the Downs. A shortened version without the initial chorus and without John Tams' spoken words was included in 1996 on the anthology The Guv'nor Vol. 4 and in 2006 on Transatlantic/Castle's British and Irish folk anthology Anthems in Eden. A newer Albion Band recording from 2003 is on An Albion Christmas.

Magpie Lane sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 1995 on their Beautiful Jo country christmas album Wassail!.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang Here We Come A-Wassailing on their 1995 album Hail Smiling Morn!.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 1998 on their No Masters CD A Garland of Carols.

John Kirkpatrick et al sang Here We Come A-Wassailing on their Folkworks project and subsequent 1998 Fellside CD Wassail!. He noted:

Another kind of perambulating wassail song from Yorkshire. This time the party goes round with an evergreen bough, sometimes decorated with oranges, sometimes with a baby Jesus inside! Learned by Martin Shaw, one of the compilers of The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928, from his father, who had sung it in Leeds as a young boy.

Pete Coe sang the Wassail Song in 2004 on his CD In Paper Houses. He noted:

George Dunn, from Quarry Bank, recorded for Leader Records at the age of 84. I organised the press for the release party and still treasure my autographed copy of his LP and this Wassail Song in particular. We transported the song to West Yorkshire where it can be heard in and around Ripponden as a prelude to our mummers play Bring the New Year In.

Kate Rusby sang Here We Come A-Wassailing in 2008 on her Christmas CD Sweet Bells.

Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews sang Derwent Wassail and Bud and Blossoms on their 2019 CD Chimes. They noted on the first song:

Traditional words with a new melody and Derbyshire title from Keith Kendrick.

and on the second:

Chris Wood taught Sarah this traditional song wassailing round Nailsworth in 2002.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing Here We Come A-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering so fairly to be seen,
Now is winter-time strangers travel far and near,
And we wish you, send you a happy New Year.

Bud and blossom, bud and blossom, bud and bloom and bear,
So we may have plenty of cider all next year;
Apples are in capfuls are in bushel bags and all,
And there's cider running out of every gutter hole.

Down here in the muddy lane there sits an old red fox,
Starving and a-shivering and licking his old chops;
Bring us out your table and spread it if you please,
And give us hungry wassailers a bit of bread and cheese.

I've got a little purse and it's made of leather skin,
A little silver sixpence it would line it well within;
Now is winter-time; strangers travel far and near,
And we wish you, send you a happy New Year.

The Albion Band sing Here We Come A-Wassailing

[spoken chorus:]
Old apple tree, we wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls,
And a little heap under the stairs.
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen,
Love and joy come to you, and to 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 who you have seen before,
Love and joy come to you, and to your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year,
And God send you a happy New Year.

[spoken:]
Christmas time, as we know it, grew out of ancient ritual celebrations which were intended to put new life into the dead earth, and to cheer our peasant ancestors for the deep midwinter nights. Here and there, the old festivities still survive. On Christmas eve, the inhabitants of Dunster, on the northern edge of Exmoor, keep up the once widespread custom of burning the ashen faggot, which for generations past they celebrated in the 14th century village inn.

Call up the master of this house, put on his golden ring,
Bring us in a glass of beer, and better we shall sing.

[spoken:]
Ash faggot burning is associated with the Saxons. It was one of many pagan customs which were absorbed in the Christian Christmas festivals as the early church extended its influence over the country life.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard