DESCRIPTION: "Wassail, wassail, all over the town, The cup is white and the ail is brown." Singer toasts the wassail bowl, likewise the residents of the house, begging entry, food, drink, hospitality and money.
EARLIEST DATE: 1857 (Bell)
KEYWORDS: request ritual drink food begging nonballad wassail
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Wales)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Sharp-100E 92, "Wassail Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBC 32, "Somerset Wassail" (1 text, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #350, p. 180, "(Wassail, wassail to our town)"
Phil Tanner, "The Wassail Song" (on Lomax41, LomaxCD1741, Voice16)
Wassailers, "The Wassail Song" (on Voice13)
cf. "Gloucestershire Wassailers' Song" (subject, one verse)
cf. "Apple Tree Wassail" (subject, one verse)
cf. "Here We Come A-Wassailing" (subject)
cf. "Wassail Song (III)" (subject)
cf. "Le Roi du Bal (King of the Ball)" (subject)
cf. "Wassail, wassaill, wassail, syng we, In worship of Cristis natiuite" (lyric from Richard Hill's manuscript; see Roman Dyboski, _Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book_, #54, p. 45) (subject)
NOTES: The custom of "wassailing" (going from house to house, usually on January 5th, begging food, drink and hospitality) is mentioned as far back as the 12th century in England; similar rituals are found across the continent of Europe and in the United States. -PJS
"Wassail," incidentally, is from Old English "Wes hael," "Be hale/whole," i.e. "Be in good health."
Paul Stamler suggests that this should not be called the "Somerset Wassail," because it's well-known outside Somerset and is often known as "The Wassail Song" (or under other titles). The problem is, all wassails seem to be called "The Wassail Song" by local singers. I use the Oxford Book of Carols title because that's as close as there is to a canonical reference.
To tell this wassail song from all the others (most if not all of which are lumped by Roud), consider the first verse:
Wassail and wassail all over the town
The cup it is white and the ale it is brown
The cup it is made of the good old ashen tree
And so is our beer of the best barley.
(The Gloucester Wassail is similar for the first three lines, but the fourth is "With our wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.")
The chorus varies; Sharp collected one version that has the refrain
To you a wassail
Aye, and joy come to our jolly wassail.
while another runs
For it's your wassail, and it's our wassail,
And it's joy be to you and a jolly wassail. - RBW
Also see Calennig, "The Wassail Song" (on Callenig, "A Gower Garland," Wild Goose Records WGS 299 CD (2000)) - BS
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