The history behind the Christmas song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

The tradition of singing Christmas carols appeared several centuries ago in England. At this time, the neighbors congratulated each other likewise, while needy families received gifts and rewards from the privileged families for performing holiday songs and carols. Many Christmas carols were written on the plot of biblical texts and carried a multi-layered religious meaning. The song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is rather jocular.

This musical composition is considered a traditional English Christmas carol and can be attributed to the type of songs-carols. Carols were a tabu custom in 1647-1660. The initiator was Oliver Cromwell. During this period, many of the ancient Christmas carols were lost beyond recall. In the Victorian era, such songs regained popularity and became popular throughout the period of the Christmas celebrations.

The clear allusion to the traditional Christmas treat is in in the second verse of the carol “Now bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer …”. The performers expected to get the Christmas hamper as a reward for their singing. The line “We wish you a merry Christmas” was a welcome to the owners of the house, and the following words about the figgy pudding meant that the group of performers would not stop singing until a reward was received. Nowadays, this phrase can be easily replaced with a request for the alternative Christmas dessert as a reward. It depends on the country where it is performed - for example, in the USA; a festive fruitcake can be the equivalent.

Unlike many other Christmas songs, this one mentions not only the celebration of Christmas, but the celebration of the New Year as well. This fact is curious, since until 1700, the 1st of January was considered the first day of the New Year in the Western world. This fact suggests that a Happy New Year greeting was added to the text later.

Researchers know little about the history of this song, the composer and the author of the text are not specified up to our days. Presumably, the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" appeared in the 16th century in the South-West England. Not a single mention of it is in the collections of the 19th century vocal folklore; the song is also missing in the Oxford book of hymns and carols of 1928. In 1935, the Oxford University Press published the choral arrangement by composer Arthur Worrall, and since then the song had gained wide popularity and had become known throughout the world.

On the eve of one of the major Christian holidays, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, we invite you to listen to one of the famous secular Christmas carols “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, recorded from the gramophone record stored in the Museum Collection. The record is dated the 1980’s.