What’s a ‘wassail’? and other carol trivia

King Wenceslas

King Wenceslas

Christmas is synonymous with music, and many of our favourite memories involve singing along to a carol.

The world’s most familiar composers and songwriters – from George Frederic Handel, a German born composer who moved to England, to American punk band the Ramones – wrote 
Christmas music.

Other carols are so old their creators are lost to time, the authors recorded only as “traditional” or “anonymous.”

Caroling dates back to the pagan winter solstice celebration. And the custom of carolers going door-to-door at Christmas time began in the Middle Ages, when the poor went around to homes singing for food and drinks.

The word itself – carol – is derivative of the French word, caroller, which means to dance around in a circle. Over time, it eventually came to mean not only to dance but also music and lyrics.

Carols were banned in England 
under Oliver Cromwell, but enjoyed a revival in the Victorian era, when many of our current traditions were forged.

The 12 Days of Christmas

It’s a cumulative song, with each verse building on the last, ending with the final verse:

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

12 drummers drumming

11 pipers piping

10 lords a leaping

9 ladies dancing

8 maids a milking

7 swans a swimming

6 geese a laying

5 golden rings

4 calling birds

3 French hens

2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

It’s an English carol about a series of successively grand gifts originally published in 1780, but it may be French in origin – its irregular metre speaks to its folk song origins.

The 12 days start on Christmas Day or St. Stephen’s Day and end the day before Epiphany in January, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking.

– Source: Wikipedia.com

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas

And a happy new year!

This song dates back to 16th Century England. The origin lies in the tradition of wealthy people who gave treats to carolers Carolers who won’t leave until they’re given a cup of good cheer and some figgy pudding – much like today’s Christmas puddings.

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gath’ring winter fuel.

In his master’s steps he trod

Where the snow lay dinted

Heat was in the very sod

Which the Saint had printed

Therefore Christian men be sure

Wealth or rank possessing

Ye who now will bless the poor

Shall yourselves find blessing

The lyrics were written by Jonn Mason Neale and published in 1853, but the music originates in Finland 300 years earlier.

Wenceslas was a Catholic king who ruled Bohemia (which included the present day Czech Republic) in the 10th Century. He was assassinated and martyred. His Saint’s Day is Sept. 28, and he’s the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

St. Stephen’s Feast Day was celebrated on Dec. 26, which is why this song is a Christmas carol.

– Source: www.carols.uk.org

The Wassail Song

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green,

Oh 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.

Wassail is an old English word for a toast, similar to wishing someone good health. The wassail is the content of the glass or goblet (spiced or mulled wine or ale). Author and composer unknown, but the tradition of going wassailing dates back to the 12th Century and continues well into the 21st.

White Christmas

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

and children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white.

Irving Berlin’s song – made famous by Bing Crosby, the ultimate crooner – was penned in 1942.

It was commissioned for the score of the Paramount Pictures film Holiday Inn, 
starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It earned an Academy award for best song and went on to become the best selling Christmas song of all time.

-Source: Allthingschristmas.com

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and child

Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

Originally a poem written by Austrian priest Joseph Mohr in 1816.

When the church organ in the small alpine village of Oberndorf broke down on Christmas Eve in 1818, Mohr gave his poem, Stille Nacht, to his friend Franz Gruber to compose a melody suitable for singing without an organ as accompaniment.

The music was intended for guitar, and the simple score was finished in time for midnight mass.

– Source: carols.org.uk

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

This song started life as a poem created by an American advertising executive named Robert May.

It was written in 1939 for an assignment for Montomery Ward, a department store, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted it into a song.

In 1949 it was recorded by Gene Autry, and the song hit #1 in the charts.

It became one of the biggest selling Christmas songs of all time.

– Source: carols.org.uk; Wikipedia.com