Monday, December 10, 2018


While caroling seems the quintessential Victorian Christmas thing to do, the tradition actually dates back much further, to a practice called wassailing. From at least the times of the Anglo-Saxons, (410 A.D.) wassailing was a holiday custom, but the tradition may date back even farther than that. The earliest wassailing was done in orchards, in a druid-pagan-type ceremony that blessed the trees and prayed to them to produce good fruit the next year. 

This ceremony eventually morphed into the lower classes carrying wassail from house to house, particularly to the houses of the wealthy and singing to get the attention of the landed gentry of the manor. This practice continued for centuries, eventually becoming the modern version, Christmas caroling. But wassailing wasn't just about singing and gathering together. It was about class boundaries, noblesse oblige, and doing right by one's boss and one's employee.

A traditional wassailing song was written sometime in the mid-1800s and published in a Yorkshire broadsheet. The author is unknown. 

Let's take a look at the verses of the song and glean a bit about the tradition of wassailing.

Here We Come a-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Wassailing, the precursor to our modern-day caroling. This song was composed around 1850, but the tradition existed long before that. The singers were bestowing their blessing upon the generous household.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.


The wassail bow was wooden, and carved in the shape of a large goblet. The goblet was filled with wassail which is a mixture of mead, spices, cider, and ale (Just alcoholic enough to warm you up.) 

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.


It was important to note that those who came were not begging. This was recipient-induced gift giving at its finest. The singers came to the landowner's house to remind him that it was Christmas, that Christmas lent itself to generosity, and that it would be nice if gifts were given to the tenants and less-fortunate in the community.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.


Early tradition says that the wassailers carried the bowl from house to house, but in later times, it was the landowner who had the wassail bowl and shared it with those who came to call.

We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.


A few coins given to the wassailers, as well as sharing a drink with them, would ensure their goodwill and the calling down of blessings upon the house.

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.


Gifts of food were popular, and the landowners would have it ready for the singers when they ventured out. Often, wassailing was done on Twelfth Night, (January 5-6) as the culmination of the Christmas festivities.

God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.


When the wassail had been shared, the gifts given, and the food partaken of, it was time for the blessing. This was a lovely bit of reciprocity. The landowner gave of his bounty, and the wassailers gave what they had, their goodwill and blessing.

Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.


The last is a bit of a reminder to the landowner not to forget the well-wishers the other 11 months of the year.

Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas!

Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.comwhere you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at where she spends way too much time!


  1. Thanks for explaining the tradition of wassailing. Sounds a bit like a block party, doesn't it?

    1. It does sound like a good time, doesn't it? Maybe we should bring it back!

  2. That's all very interesting. I never really knew what wassailing was before. It's not a song we sing much in the Midwest. Ha e a merry Christmas!

    1. I'm not sure where I heard it the first time...probably in elementary music class? It's not often sung anymore, since wassailing has gone by the wayside in favor of modern Christmas caroling.

  3. Love this song! Now, I am singing "Here we come a wassailing!" Merry Christmas!

  4. Wassailing is one of my favourite words. Thanks for the post, Erica.

    1. I love unusual words, don't you? Especially ones not in common use. :)

  5. Okay, now I'm going to be singing the refrain all week. :) I didn't know about all the other verses. I've heard some of this down through the years, but it's neat to hear all about the rest of the song. Thanks, Erica.

    1. Isn't it fun to examine uncommon bits of history? Sometimes the most common things come from unusual sources. :)