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Wassailing

Wassailing in Gower refers to a tradition of visiting neighbours’ houses around Christmas time and singing carols door-to-door. ‘Wassail’ comes from the greeting ‘waes hail’, which means ‘good health’ or ‘be healthy’ and the tradition of wassailing wishes good health on those visited. ‘Wassail’ also refers to the hot mulled cider traditionally drunk during wassailing.

Wassailing usually takes place on the twelfth night, generally regarded as the 6th January. Although today it is considered a Christmas tradition, it is likely that wassailing dates back to before Christianity arrived in Britain and before the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was however associated with charitable giving, a way of richer villagers giving charity to those less fortunate without them having to beg. The wassailers would go door-to-door to sing songs to villagers and wish them good health, in the hope of receiving money, food or drink, or even the chance to warm up by the fire.

 A bowl of wassail would be taken around to each house by the wassailers or it would be served by those inside the houses they visited. Traditionally, the drink was a mulled ale or cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and topped with slices of toast. In more recent times the drink has been made with wine or fruit juice, sometimes with brandy or sherry and with added apples or oranges.

 The ‘Gower Wassail’ is a traditional song that is sung during wassailing. It takes the tune from the traditional Irish song ‘Here’s a Health’. There are two versions to the song; one was solely sung by the wassailers, whilst the second version was an exchange of dialogue between the wassailers and the people inside the house. There are a number of verses to the song, sometimes sung in different sequences but usually similar to the following:

Chorus A

Al dal di dal di dal

Dal di dal di dal
Dal di dal di dee
Sing deero, sing daddy
Sing too ral di do

 or

 Chorus B

Fol de dol fol de dol de dol

Fol de dol de dol fol de dol de de
Fol de da ro fol de da di
Sing tu re lye do

 Wassaliers’ version:

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 (too)
Some nutmeg and ginger, the best we can bake (do)

Our wassail is made of the elderberry bough
And so my good neighbors 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 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

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 out 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

Dialogue version:

Wassailers:

Now master and mistress let your company forbear
To fill up our wassail with you cider and beer
We want none of your pale beer, nor none of your small
But a drop of your kilderkin, that’s next to the wall

Now master and mistress if you are within
Pray send out your maid with her lily-white skin
For to open the door without more delay
For our time it is precious and we cannot stay

Master & Mistress:

You’ve brought your wassail, which is very well known
But I can assure you we’ve as good of our own
As for your jolly wassail, we care not one pin
But it’s for your good company we’ll let you come in

Together:

Here’s a health to our Cooley and her croo’ed horn
May God send her Master a good crop of corn
Of barley and wheat and all sorts of grain
May God send her Mistress a long life to reign

Wassailers:

Now Master and Mistress, know you will give
Unto our jolly wassail as long as you live
And if we do life to another new year
We’ll call in again just to see who lives here