We’ve been a while a-wandering

Music: Trad. arr. Sheena Phillips, Words: Trad.

Voicing: SATB

Performance time approx: 2m 10s

Range S: d' — e'' / A: c' — d'' / T: d — e' / B: c — d'

Price code: C


The custom of wassailing had medieval roots and continued into the 20th century. Groups of wassailers would go from door to door in the Christmas season, singing and offering a drink from a communal wassail cup or bowl in exchange for food, money or other gifts. The word ‘wassail’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon expression for ‘good health to you’ and the original wassail drink was a hot mulled cider. Wassail songs were also performed in orchards and addressed to the trees, in a ritual invocation of a good harvest.

The tune of this particular wassail song was transcribed by Vaughan Williams from singers in Yorkshire in the early 20th century. The words are an amalgam of a couple of different Yorkshire wassail songs. The arrangement is strong and simple, with a short section between verses that can be taught to the audience beforehand.

The recording is by Belsize Community Choir (with audience participation).

We’ve been a while a-wandering
Amongst the leaves so green,
But now we come a-wassailing,
So plainly to be seen:

For it’s Christmas time,
When we travel far and near,
May God bless you and send you
A happy new year!

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are [name of choir]
Whom you may have heard before:

We’ve got a little purse
Made of stretching leather skin;
We want a little money
To line it well within:

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

Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor singers
And please support the choir!

Traditional English (adapted)

Card ImageChristmas, midwinter, New Year

We’ve been a while a-wandering

Sheena Phillips


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