Wassail Song

It’s Christmas Eve and the last Sunday of Advent – and so, here we come a-wassailing! We celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow, and today the Willows Academy choir helps us get into the festive spirit!

But what in the world is wassailing? Firstly, it’s a word borrowed from Norse, ves heill, meaning “be in good health.” But it’s also a pot of simmering cider, cinnamon, wine, and often citrus given to carolers during Yuletide, because when the tradition began, the carolers were often the poor and orphans. Wassailing was a trade: you could enjoy a song or two with a gift of good cider or food to keep the wassailers warm!

Still today, the festivity comes in two types, though often sung by volunteers instead of orphans: the house wassail and the orchard wassail. These answer a crucial question: will you find the Christmas carolers wishing you joy and good health? Will they be at your door, or will you hear them out and about?

“Here we come a-wassailing”, or “here we come a-caroling”, is from at least the mid-19th century, but is likely older. The phrase comes from the 11th or 12th century. The song is a silly solicitation of the rich folk who would receive carolers, asking them to bring the carolers food and drinks so they would sing all the better. Right up until the last verse, this is the theme. Then, in the last verse, they sing: “Good master and good mistress, while you’re sitting by the fire / Pray think of us poor children Who are wandering the mire.”

So as we see our carolers come and go this year, be sure to remember them in your prayers – and the poor and orphans who used to come a-wassailing around Christmastime. And, if you’re really into the wassailing spirit, prepare some warm cider for your friends, family, and anyone who might stop by this Christmas Eve!

Now, enjoy the Willows Academy choir’s rendition of “Here We Come A-Wassailing”:

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.