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Wassail On

Today it's Epiphany, January 6th. These past couple of weeks my mother has wanted to continue singing Christmas songs way beyond Christmas day, and I have done so with her. For some cultures, Epiphany, is the day to celebrate Christmas, the day the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus in the crèche. It's also Twelfth Night, twelve nights after Christmas. Whatever we call this day my holiday decorations are still up, the red and green garland on the railings.

Back decades ago when I was a teenager neighbors would sing Christmas songs on Christmas Eve going house to house. My mother and I were the first family members out of the house, our boots swishing in the snowdrifts, overcoats open to the fresh crisp air. At each residence more neighbors would join us until we had quite a throng at the end of the U-shaped street. One of the songs we sang was "Here We Come a Wassailing."

I didn't realize that this song has been traditionally sung on Twelfth Night in England. In the 1600s people would sing this song going house to house and share "wassail" a "communal bowl of mulled ale or mead" that was passed. "Wassail" means "waes hail" in Anglo Saxon, or, "be in good health." (Source:

There are other cultures that expand the singing and socializing with others at holiday time like "La Parranda," which Puerto Ricans celebrate around Christmas time into January. "La Parranda" means "the party" or "spree," and there's usually a surprise element. A small group of friends or relatives make a surprise visit late in the night to share holiday glee. It's more of a surprise musical attack with singing and instrumental playing. A performance group, friends or family, tip-toes up the stairs of the front porch of the home to be visited and upon cue begins playing and singing loudly Puerto Rican secular holiday songs.

One year I happened to be visiting some friends of mine, a Puerto Rican family, and it was New Year's Eve. It wasn't quite midnight, and suddenly there was a loud burst of singing and guitar playing, so loud I thought it was an attack. I felt panicked, clutched my chest, even though these were cheerful melodies. I didn't know enough Spanish to translate, but I knew this was happy music. Everyone in the living room laughed at my horror stricken face as they opened their front door for "La Parranda." The group of performers were invited in, and they were listened to first. Then our group began singing along with the performers, and, even I was humming along. Later the performing group went on to other neighbors' homes to continue the "gleeful attack." (Source: Wikipedia)

Truly this is the season to share music. "Love and joy come to you."

copyright 2022 Georgiann Foley


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