Gloucestershire Wassail for Dulcimer

Singing Christmas carols as we walked down the streets of our small rural town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on very cold and snowy nights in December brings back many memories as a young person. Hands and toes were mighty cold when we were finished; and we’d circle back around to the starting point for some hot grog. I still love singing those old Christmas carols during the holiday season. I am not sure when I learned Gloucestershire Wassail — but it has become one of my favorite songs for the holiday season. A novice player who can play chords can master this on the mountain dulcimer — I included tab for melody and chords.

Upon moving to Louisiana I discovered a different type of caroling. For several years, we joined a nature group in New Orleans that took canoes onto St. James Bayou in the evening. This bayou winds through the middle of the city close to City Park with many wealthy homes along the way. We paddled down the bayou stopping at homes along the banks, serenading the people on their decks. Many were having parties or just were outside. They thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and we enjoyed singing. Even in Louisiana, it was still cold — heated bricks by our feet inside the canoes helped keep us warm. What fond memories.

Gloucestershire Wassail

There are many English “wassailing” songs. The Gloucestershire Wassail is an old English carol which has a nice lilt. I can picture a crowd of revelers walking through the town singing this song. It is believed to date from the 1700’s in Gloucestershire, England, during the holiday season. The song was first published in the Times Telescope in 1813. It was also published in The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928.

The word wassail comes from the old Anglo-Saxon greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale” or “be in good health,” according to Wikipedia. Carolers would go from house to house carrying a  “wassailing” bowl decorated with ribbons, fruit and evergreens. They carried mugs of wassail – hot mulled apple punch. They would stop at homes and sing the song asking that their wassail bowl be refilled or offering to give a taste of the wassail in exchange for gifts. money or food.

Wassailing also refers to the ancient medieval English tradition of visiting apple orchards and singing and drinking to the health of apple trees on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. They chanted magical charms and rituals in the hopes of ensuring a good harvest the next fall.

Gloucestershire Wassail Lyrics

The song and lyrics are included in the Oxford Book of Carols first published in 1928 and were collected from the town of Gloucestershire. Apparently, most communities in this part of England had similar customs and songs. The lyrics include toasts to all the members of the household. The song is light and festive.

1.
Wassail, wassail, all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown,
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree,
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
2.
And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye,
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie,
A good Christmas pie that may we all see,
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
3.
And here is to Broad May and to her broad horn,
May God send our master a good crop of corn,
A good crop of corn that may we all see,
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
4.
And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear,
Pray God send our master a happy New Year,
A happy New Year as e’er he did see,
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
5.
And here is to Colly and to her long tail,
Pray God send our master a good cask of ale,
A good cask of ale that may we all see,
With a wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With a wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
6.
Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
They I pray that your soul in heaven may rest,
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
May the devil take butler, bowl and all.
Bowl and all, bowl and all,
May the devil take butler, bowl and all.
7.
Then here’s to the maid in the lily-white smock,
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock,
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin,
For to let these jolly wassailers in.
Wassailers in, wassailers in,
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Dulcimer Tablature

This song is achievable for a novice or intermediate person who can play harmony notes and chords on the dulcimer — it is in 3/4 time which gives a swaying and dance-type rhythm.  The only difficult measures are measures #8 and #10 which contain mostly eighth notes, use several fingers to hold down the frets and shorten your strum or use hammer-on’s and pull-off’s.  Alternately, play only the notes on the beat.

The tab is for DAD tuning and the Key of D. The chords are written above the standard notes (bass to melody string) which gives a harmony and rhythm part for a second person to play. You can also sing the song, strumming only the chords.

This song is often played in the Key of G. There are many ways to change keys on the dulcimer — play in DGD, add a Capo at fret 3 or play an arrangement using a 1+ fret. An alternative method is to change dulcimers — play the song on a ginger dulcimer tuned to GDG or a baritone dulcimer tuned to GDG. Use the same tablature — you are now playing in the key of G.

Here is a jpeg of this delightful carol. A PDF file, which can be downloaded follows. And for fun, I have included an recipe for Spiked Hot Mulled Apple Cider — which is shown in the photos. It is a simple recipe to make, but I assure you, very tasty. Enjoy.

Here is a PDF file which you can download, play and share with anyone you like.

Gloucestershire Wassail – Key of D

Spiked Hot Mulled Cider by MayleesKitchen

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts apple cider, unpasteruized preferred
  • 750 ml bottle inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp all spice

Method and Steps:

  1. Add apple cider, wine and dark brown sugar to large pot on stove.
  2. Add cloves and all spice to the pot. If desired, place cloves and all spice in tea strainer or ball before adding to the pot..
  3. Heat over medium heat, stirring to dissolve brown sugar. Do not boil.
  4. When the punch becomes steamy and the brown sugar dissolves, reduce heat to low and continue to simmer until ready to serve.
  5. Pour into individual mugs and serve. Or transfer to a coffee percolator or heated chafing dish or insulated beverage server and place on buffet table along with serving cups for hot beverages for self-service.

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