Wassailing

“Quoi?”  MB calls out from the kitchen.

“Quoi what?”  I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.

He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party.  I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.

He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop.  “What is this wassailing?”

“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute.  “You know, it’s to… “wassail.”  This seems like a totally logical answer to me.

“You don’t know what it means, do you?”

YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid!  Gaw!”  I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”

“So, what is it?”  He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.

“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly.  “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health
2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”

“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?”  He asks me this with amusement on his face.

“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better.  “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”

MB bursts out laughing.

“It also means to drink to someone’s health!”  I will defend “wassailing” forever!

He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen.  My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.

When I was little I was a Girl Scout.  We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year.  I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak.  Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.

Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood.  My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I.  It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear.  We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party.  It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers.  Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.

I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s.  After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis).  We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).

Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door.  Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple.  At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.”  The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there.  Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there.  I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch.  While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried.  We had never made such an impact.  Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.

It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs.  Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.”  We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world.  I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.

When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it.  She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl.  “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway.  I still recall the intense delight I felt.”  It’s funny, isn’t it?  That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.

My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money.  They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something.  Well…we were.  Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.

So, “Wassail” my friends!  Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.

*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year.  There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I’ll be back in the New Year!!

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23 Responses to Wassailing

  1. What a lovely post! I never went carol singing as a child – we didn’t do it in my part of Australia, but I remember learning carols in several languages and singing them in the street once. I still know the beginning of Silent Night in German! I really love Christmas carols and was delighted to be at an expat party last Saturday where we all sang lots of them. Happy Christmas!

    • breadispain says:

      I’m so glad you liked it – it was fun for me to write this one and think about the fun I had caroling as a child. I saw the pics and the post about your holiday party and it looked like a good time!!! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  2. Laurie says:

    I love it! And I love the canping part too. Thank you for a fun story. It made me smile.

  3. NK, this brought tears to my eyes! This is the essence of the holiday season, no matter what your beliefs. Just beautiful. A little gift to us from you. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and will look forward to following along in 2013!
    Bisous from Arles,
    Heather

    • breadispain says:

      Aww…thanks so much, Heather! I’m so glad you enjoyed it – I really enjoyed writing it and talking to my Mother about the old caroling days. I hope you have wonderful holidays!! Bisous!!

  4. AnnieLaurie says:

    Joyeux Noel my dear! Love your blog and love you more! Thanks for sharing this lovely story.

    AnnieLaurie

  5. Gwan says:

    I’ve never been carolling door to door, but I would love it! Carol services were always one of my favourite Christmas things. You can keep your new-fangled Christmas songs, I love the classics like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “O Holy Night”.

    • breadispain says:

      You should find a group to go and carol with! It is really such a fun thing to do!! I love my old ones too but would be lying if I didn’t say I was a sucker for Mariah Carey, haha!

  6. Brea B. says:

    Beautiful memories!!! Thanks for continuing to spread Christmas cheer with your blog!

  7. katyryder says:

    Can’t beat a bit of caroling! If you read the words to ‘here we come a wassailing’ it reveals more about what it was all about – the poor used to go around the rich folk’s houses and sing them a song in return for a drink or a minute standing by the fire. My favourite verse is ‘Call up the butler from his house, put on his golden ring, let him bring us up a glass of beer and better shall we sing!’ Sums it up pretty well! Great post, and it’s one of my favourite carols too :)

    • breadispain says:

      YES! Actually, I went back and looked closely at the lyrics when writing this and it was so interesting. Wassail Wassail seems to have a similar sentiment but more the adult peasants or servants. So glad that you enjoyed this!!

      (p.s. Funny my surname is Ryder too)

      • katyryder says:

        That is odd! Well you know, it is a great name. Merry Christmas & enjoy any wassailing you might get up to, i’m going caroling on sunday night so you never know, maybe someone will invite us in for a bear or a glass of mead!

  8. Aunt Pat says:

    I have loved all your stories and musings, but this may be my favorite. You mentioned the light around the people in the house, but I am sure they saw a light around your head, too!

    I read a little devotional the other day talking about the shepherds, who probably were the first carolers. The point of the devotion was to suggest that even though we might be relatively minor in a story, our praise to God will always make all the impact that is ever needed. It is so comforting to know that a simple gift of song or a kind word can truly change the world. I am sure you and Zav are wassailing and sharing joy with all! Perfect! I hope your holidays are filled with joy and laughter! Miss you and sending you E-HUGS!

    • breadispain says:

      Thanks so much, Aunt Pat!! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it and thank you for sharing your devotional with me!! We miss you and wish we could be with y’all this year!!

  9. Theresa says:

    At my third annual Chrismukkah party last night (“a highlight of the holiday season,” a regular party-attender told me), I printed out a songbook of my favorite Christmas carols so everyone could sing along. And sing we did — including the Wassail Song! But here I thought wassail was a type of punch… at least I knew it was alcoholic.

    I’ll be bringing the songbooks on my camping trip to Lakes Entrance over Christmas. Perhaps some lucky campers will get a caroling visit… I, too, have fond memories of doing it with people from my church in our little town of 200 people.

  10. Kate says:

    A couple years ago, before my husband deployed to Iraq, we went with our church to sing carols at a retired Sisters (Catholic) home. These women gave their all educating children, and many had only each other. I will never, ever forget standing in one woman’s room as she just smiled like we had made her whole year, so my husband and I continued singing to her for a bit longer. She thanked us and told us it was beautiful (um, I’m going to guess she is a wee bit hard of hearing), but it is a memory that makes each year special.

    • breadispain says:

      Thank you so much for sharing such a lovely story! I do think that caroling can really put a smile on someone’s face…haha, even if the singing isn’t perfect! :) Thanks for reading!

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