Wassailing and Christmas Carols
By Virginia Carraway stark
There are so many parts of Christmas that are a ton of fun and that bring back fond memories and nostalgia but for me there is nothing that makes me as happy as my memories of Christmas Caroling when I was a child.
I love to sing and Christmas Songs are some of the most wonderful of songs for the sheer joy in them. Caroling goes back a long long ways and it runs fierce in my Celtic blood to sing in the darkest part of the year and bring back the sun with the call of my exuberance.
Caroling took many forms when I was little and usually the caroling, or Wassailing as it was called in the old days would last for many days. We would go to the Nursing Homes, to the Hospital and door-to-door where we would often be rewarded with warm drinks and warm conversation. The most notable and unusual sort of wassailing was a sort of modified winter hay ride. My Dad was a truck driver and he would hitch up the low bed to the back of his semi-truck and load it up with hay bales. We could pack a hundred Wassailers on the back of the low bed and we slowly traversed the city streets, lit up with Christmas lights and singing at the top of our lungs as people came out to see the spectacle and to join in with the singing. One year when we had our draft horses and a sleigh I was blessed to go wassailing in our rural area in an actual horse drawn sleigh, something I think very very few people can say they have done in this day and age.
Caroling seems to largely have fallen by the wayside as cynicism has made people dread the holidays more and more. People hide from Carolers rather than welcoming them in for warm drinks and many people are just too self conscious to sing.
It wasn’t always like that though. I remember at the hospital people coming out of their rooms to see us, bundled up for winter and rosy-cheeked and grinning as we would break into song. They would smile and find a place to sit down. Being in the hospital or a nursing home for Christmas has to be one of the most dreary things in the world but we shared our joy and brought some of the outside world into their sorrowful world and made a difference in their day.
The history of Wassailing goes back a long ways. People used to go Wassailing to the Lords and Ladies houses where they would be rewarded with good food, drink and usually a coin or two. Wassailing comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘to be hale’ and it is a way to wish good health to all those you visit, including your own family.
The roots of caroling go deeper even than this. In the days of the Pagans the Wassailers didn’t go to visit the Lords and Ladies of the mortal realm but rather to the orchards where they would wish health to the trees and the the Lords and Ladies of the Elven realm who were believed to be the guardians of the apples and other orchard trees.
Seeing how rarely and how timorously this custom now takes place makes me sad. It was so much fun to sing my face off with a group of people who were similarly as unselfconscious and joyous, knowing that everywhere we went we spread joy in the very darkest heart of winter.