We wish you a Merry Christmas,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “ Hark the Heralds Angels Sing” – what is your first thought when you hear these titles? Christmas carols, right? Oh how we love to sing these songs at this most wonderful time of the year. We are instantly filled with the joy of the season as we sing along on with the local radio station that has now converted its programming to Christmas carols 24-7. However, don’t be mistaken everything you hear on these stations is not considered a Christmas carol; some are merely Christmas songs.
Once upon a time people went out a-wassailing, going from door to door sharing good cheer and merriment. The practice of Christmas caroling as we know it dates back to the 19th century in Victorian England. Before the culture of carols, wassailing, a word deriving from the Old English term that encouraged good health for your neighbors, had an ulterior motive. Behind the door-to-door singing, for instance, in the song “Here We Come-A-Wassailing,” (now known as ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’) the intent stated tells neighbors to “Bring us some figgy pudding.” And they meant it! Figgy pudding is a dessert dating back to the 16th century in England. It is a white Christmas pudding containing figs, which can be boiled, baked, steamed in the oven or fried. It is also considered a spice-cake-like souffle (See the recipe).
For as much as we see commercials with carolers caroling about the latest deals for the holidays, and for as much as we sing Christmas carols on the radio, the days of caroling are almost extinct as an every-man custom. Of course there are some that keep the tradition alive. Groups like A Little Dickens Carolers went from a group of four friends performing at charity events to over 30 carolers performing at over 100 events per year. A Little Dickens Carolers are based out of Los Angeles and perform at local and celebrity events . On the East Coast in New York, you can find The Dickens Victorian Carollers. These professional carolers have performed for four presidential administrations including: father and son Bush, Clinton and a private function for the Obama’s.
Caroling doesn’t have to go the way of the VCR and 8-track tape. If caroling is something that you love, round up a few of your friends and organize a caroling party. You might want to center it around your tree-decorating, and in the old wassailing tradition ask everyone to bring an ornament or maybe some kind of Christmas treat. Make it fun and festive with traditional Christmas desserts and drinks.
If you are feeling adventurous and ready for a fun-filled experience of bringing good cheer to your neighbors, find a safe place to go in your neighborhood, bring some hot apple cider,hot cocoa or tea and Fa –la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la with your friends and family. You never know, you might get some figgy pudding out of it!