(Anonymous Middle Ages English)
This carol was originally a song for people to sing at New Year, commonly in Northern England.
Wassail is a spiced punch that is drunk hot, and was traditionally made with mulled beer rather than the mulled cider or wine drunk today. The term wassail is coined from the toast “be thou hale” or the original “woes pu hael” that was used in Old England when drinking to the good health of someone.
Wassailing was and is the custom of singing while going to peoples’ doors to wish them a good year, or places such as orchards where a good crop is hoped, and in exchange the wassailers would receive food, drink or even money.
The “Wassail Song” itself has been known since at least the 16th century and possibly prior and has many versions, with possibly the most popular being known as “Here We Come A-Wassailing” which has been changed to “Here We Come A-Carolling” in more recent years, much to the concern of some music traditionalists. It has even been suggested by Joseph Ritson in his Ancient Songs and Carols of 1829 that “Shakespeare may have heard this song sung outside of his house at Christmas”.
Often recorded in various of its versions it can be heard by many choirs and the American composer Leroy Anderson incorporated it into his Suite of Carols for String Orchestra.
Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra recordings
Decca B0003552-02 (CD: A Leroy Anderson Christmas)