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The custom of wassailing had medieval roots and continued into the 20th century. Groups of wassailers would go from door to door in the Christmas season, singing and offering a drink from a communal wassail cup or bowl in exchange for food, money or other gifts. The word ‘wassail’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon expression for ‘good health to you’ and the original wassail drink was a hot mulled cider. Wassail songs were also performed in orchards and addressed to the trees, in a ritual invocation of a good harvest.
The tune of this particular wassail song was transcribed by Vaughan Williams from singers in Yorkshire in the early 20th century. The words are an amalgam of a couple of different Yorkshire wassail songs. The arrangement is strong and simple, with a short section between verses that can be taught to the audience beforehand.
The recording is by Belsize Community Choir (with audience participation).
We’ve been a while a-wandering Amongst the leaves so green, But now we come a-wassailing, So plainly to be seen:
For it’s Christmas time, When we travel far and near, May God bless you and send you A happy new year!
We are not daily beggars That beg from door to door, But we are [name of choir] Whom you may have heard before:
We’ve got a little purse Made of stretching leather skin; We want a little money To line it well within:
Call up the butler of this house, Put on his golden ring, Let him bring us up a glass of beer, The better we shall sing:
Good master and good mistress, While you’re sitting by the fire, Pray think of us poor singers And please support the choir!
Traditional English (adapted)
Purchase – 4084: We’ve been a while a-wandering
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