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Listen here.

Now we go secular again! This one is great fun to sing - in fact I suggested it for our choir this year because I like singing along to this version so much. (And we're singing it twice - once on its own, and once in a Vaughan Williams medley.)

We've already heard from Loreena McKennitt with Emmanuel, and we've had another type of door-to-door carol with the Old Waits Carol. Apparently wassailing is done by farm labourers while waits were night watchmen.

A couple of tidbits: this is roughly 18th-century, and in at least one written version the names of the horses & cows were left blank so singers could fill in the appropriate names for where they were.

Many kind people have written more than I can possibly quote about wassailing:

Sorry, that's a terrible cop-out, but it's late on Sunday night. (And yet as I write this, I'm watching A Victorian Farm Christmas and they are singing this very song. Thank you TVO for tying this whole evening together for me!)

Your very good health. Waes hail!

*Mumming isn't limited to England either: Newfoundland mummers

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Listen here.

All right, time to get a little more traditional! For me Loreena McKennit is one of those artists who's always balancing right on the edge of cheesy and overdone without ever falling over it. Her Christmas albums (this is from A Midwinter Night's Dream) are particularly lovely. This is a comparatively well-known song but she has many more obscure ones as well. And she does know how to rock a simple yet powerful arrangement, doesn't she?

Mainly Norfolk, a great resource for traditional and folk music, quotes A.L. Lloyd on the Watersons' version and the history of the song:

Smashing tune, baffling words. A bit before the ninth century a set of antiphons used to be sung for the week before Christmas. About the thirteenth century an anonymous author made a Latin metrical hymn out of five of these antiphons, and this hymn was translated by J.M. Neale (1818-66), the author of Good King Wenceslas. Most modern hymnbooks prefer the later translation by T.A. Lacey but the Methodist Hymnbook and the Salvation Army stick to Neale, and it's his words - more or less - that the Watersons offer here. The tune, first printed in 1856, is credited as “adapted by T. Helmore from a French missal in the National Library, Lisbon.” No-one has been able to find it there. Quite likely it's a mock-medieval confection of Victorian times. But a good 'un.

Here's a video:

Trivia: this is the longest track in this Advent calendar, but if you add yesterday's two together it's only the second longest. Enjoy!

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December 2012

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