Monday, December 21, 2009

Public drunkenness during Christmas? Well, it happened, methinks.

Tis that time of year again when one hears lots of Christmas carols being sung. Usually the same ones over and over and over and over and over and over again. Sometimes, we are lucky, and get away with not having to hear more modern Christmas songs (although if you want to listen to depressing Christmas songs, that is also easily done). Sometimes, there are interesting non-standard takes on Christmas music, but what about some of those songs of the season that were less about Christmas - per se - and more about the merriment of the season, or of the warmth of human kindness?

Two songs come to mind: Good King Wenceslas and The Wassail Song. True, the first song - GKW - takes place on the day after Christmas (on Feast of Stephen - December 26). It makes references to God and the divine sanction by which they rule. Still, in a modern day, we can all be like King Wenceslas in our own way, and I think that such a song - one that doesn't directly call for the worship of God, but instead looks at the kindness of one man (a king) toward another (a poor man).

Lyrics (via Wikipedia):
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, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

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 second song - The Wassail Song - is somewhat more interesting to me. It's a song about singing songs and getting paid (in beer and spirits) for singing those songs. It was written during the 17th Century, and looking at the definition of "wassail," we learn that it means drinking alcohol to wish one good health. The song - in more recent variations - has been re-named Here we come A-Caroling. Why is this, I wonder? Does it have anything to do with the major impact (on the US at least) of the temperance movement of the 1910s and 1920s (and which still continues to today)? Well, I can't say that it was that particular temperance movement, but it is clear (to me at least) that someone decided to "clean up" this song that is usually only sung around Christmas -- although it can be a good New Year song, too. Let me know what you think:

Lyrics (via Wikipedia):
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
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.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.


We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.


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


We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.


Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.


God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go


Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.


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