Tradition of Wassail

Malpas Wassail

[ Roud 209; trad.]

The Watersons sang Malpas Wassail in 1975 on their LP For Pence and Spicy Ale. This track was reissued in 2003 on The Definitive Collection.  A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

A house-to-house luck wish song local to the Truro district of Cornwall.“Wassail” is an Anglo-Saxon (wes hael—to be healthy).

Louis and Sally Killen sang Malpas Wassailin the same year on their LP Bright Shining Morning. Louis Killen commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

Wassailing (the word is Middle English: “be in good health”)is a custom still carried on in many parts of England on New Years Eve, when groups go from house to house singing the wassail songs and bringing luck in exchange for tokens of appreciation; that is, cakes and ale and money. James Madison carpenter, the American folklorist, collected several versions of this wassail around the Truro area of North Cornwall in 1929/30, and most of the text comes from his manuscript. Peter Kennedy recorded a version for the BBC in 1951 in the village of Malpas (hence the title we give it) in the same area. The tune we sing owes as much to the Waterson family of Hull as to the Malpas trio, with some unintentional variations of our own creeping in with the passage of time. 

The Watersons sing Malpas Wassail

Now the harvest being over
And Christmas drawing in
Please open your door
And let us come in
With our wassail

Chorus (after each verse):Wassail, wassail
And joy come to our jolly wassail

Here’s the master and mistress
Sitting down by the fire
While we poor wassail boys
Do trudge through the mire
With our wassail

Here’s the master and mistress
Sitting down at their ease
Put your hands in your pockets
And give what you please
With our wassail

This ancient awd house
We will kindly salute
It is your custom
You need not dispute
With our wassail

Here’s the saddle and the bridle
They’re hung upon the shelf
If you want any more
You can it sing yourself
With our wassail

Here’s an health to the master
And a long time to live
Since you’ve been so kind
And so willing to give
With our wassail

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription 

Gower Wassail

A-wassail, a-wassail throughout all the town,
Our cup it is white and our ale it is brown.
Our wassail is made of the good ale and cake,
Some nutmeg and ginger, the best we could bake.

Chorus (after each verse):Fol-dee-dol, dol-dee-dol,
Dol-dee-dol, dol-dee-del,
Fol-dee-derol, lol-dee-der-dee,
Sing too-ra-li-doh.

Our wassail is made of the elderberry bough,
And so my good neighbours, we’ll drink unto thou,
Besides all on earth, you have apples in store,
Pray, let us come in for it’s cold by the door.

We hope that your apple trees prosper and bear
So that we may have cider when we call next year.
And where you have one barrel we hope you’ll have ten
So that we may have cider when we call again.

There’s a master and a mistress sitting down by the fire
While we poor wassail boys stand here in the mire.
Come you pretty maid with your silver-headed pin,
Pray, open the door and let us come in.

It’s we poor wassail boys so weary and cold,
Please drop some small silver into our bowl,
And if we survive for another New Year,
Perhaps we may call and see who does live here.

We know by the moon that we are not too soon,
And we know by the sky that we are not too high,
And we know by the stars that we are not too far,
And we know by the ground that we are within sound.

 

Gloucestershire Wassail

 

(Music & Lyric: Traditional; Arranged by Loreena McKennitt)

Wassail! Wassail all over the town!
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing-bowl, we’ll drink to thee!

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek!
Pray God send out master a good piece of beef,
And a good piece of beef that we all may see;
With the wassailing-bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye!
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie,
And a good Christmas pie that we may all see;
With our wassailing-bowl, we’ll drink to thee!

So here is to Broad May and to her broad horn!
May God send our master a good crop of corn,
And a good crop of corn that we may all see;
With the wassailing-bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear!
Pray God send our master a happy new year,
And a happy new year as e’er he did see;
With our wassailing-bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Colly and to her long tail!
Pray God send our master he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer, I pray you draw near,
And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear.

Then here’s to the maid in the lily-white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock;
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin,
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Wassail! Wassail all over the town!
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing-bowl, we’ll drink to thee!

Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With the wassailing-bowl we’ll drink to thee

Here’s the earliest version I found:

A Carol for a Wassel-Bowl
To be sung upon Twelfth-Day at Night, to the tune of “Gallants, come away.”

Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

See generally Wassailing – Notes On The Songs

1. A jolly wassel-bowl,
A wassel of good ale,
Well fare the butler’s soul,
That setteth this to sale;
Our jolly wassel.

2. Good dame, here at your door
Our wassel we begin,
We are all maidens poor,
We pray now let us in,
With our wassel.

3. Our wassel we do fill
With apples and with spice,
Then grant us your good will
To taste here once or twice
Of our good wassel.

4. If any maidens be
Here dwelling in this house,
They kindly will agree
To take a full carouse
Of our wassel.

5. But here they let us stand
All freezing in the cold:
Good master, give command
To enter and be bold,
With our wassel.

6. Much joy into this hall
With us is entered in;
Our master, first of all,
We hope will now begin
Of our wassel.

7. And after his good wife
Our spiced bowl will try;
The Lord prolong your life,
Good fortune we espy
For our wassel.

8. Some bounty from your hands,
Our wassel to maintain:
We’l buy no house nor lands
With that which we do gain
With our wassel.

9. This is our merry night
Of choosing king and queen,
Then be it your delight
That something may be seen
In our wassel.

10. It is a noble part
To bear a liberal mind;
God bless our master’s heart,
For here we comfort find,
With our wassel.

11. And now we must be gone
To seek out more good cheer,
Where bounty will be shown
As we have found it here,
With our wassel.

12. Much joy betide them all,
Our prayers shall be still,
We hope and ever shall,
For this your great good will
To our wassel.

The Boar’s head and the Wassail-bowl were the two most important accessories to Christmas in the olden time, and there were frequent brief allusions to the latter, in the works of our early English poets. The phrase “Wassail,” occurs in the oldest carol that has been handed down to us, and in the extracts already given from Spenser, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, mention is made of the Wassail bowl, which shows, that in their day it continued to form a necessary portion of the festivities appertaining to the season. New-year’s eve and Twelfth-night were the occasions on which the Wassail-bowl was chiefly in requisition. In a collection of ordinances for the regulation of the royal household, in the reign of Henry VII., on Twelfth-night the steward was enjoined, when he entered with the spiced and smoking beverage, to cry “Wassail” three times, to which the royal chaplain — jolly priest as he doubtless was — had to answer with a song. While the wealthier classes were enjoying themselves with copious draughts of “lamb’s wool” — as the beverage, composed of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs, or apples, with which the bowl was filled, was styled — the poorer sort of people went from house to house with Wassail bowls adorned with ribbons, singing carols, and inviting those whom they visited to drink, in return for which, little presents of money were generally bestowed upon them.

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