Tag Archives: traditional Christmas carol

Arthur Fiedler & Boston Pops Medley – Here We Come A-Caroling/O Tannenbaum/I Saw Three Ships (1972)



“Here We Come A-wassailing” (or Here We Come A-caroling) is an English traditional Christmas carol and New Years song, apparently composed c. 1850. The old English wassail song refers to ‘wassailing’, or singing carols door to door wishing good health, while the a- is an archaic intensifying prefix; compare A-Hunting We Will Go and lyrics to The Twelve Days of Christmas (e.g., “Six geese a-laying”). According to Readers Digest; “the Christmas spirit often made the rich a little more generous than usual, and bands of beggars and orphans used to dance their way through the snowy streets of England, offering to sing good cheer and to tell good fortune if the householder would give them a drink from his wassail bowl or a penny or a pork pie or, let them stand for a few minutes beside the warmth of his hearth. The wassail bowl itself was a hearty combination of hot ale or beer, apples, spices and mead, just alcoholic enough to warm tingling toes and fingers of the singers”.

“O Tannenbaum”, or, in its English version, “O Christmas Tree“, is a Christmas carol of German origin. A Tannenbaum is a fir tree (German: die Tanne) or Christmas tree (der Weihnachtsbaum). Its evergreen qualities have long inspired musicians to write several “Tannenbaum” songs in German. The melody is an old folk tune (Lauriger Horatius). The first known “Tannenbaum” song lyrics date back to 1550. 

I Saw Three Ships” (Come Sailing In) is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. A variant of its parent tune “Greensleeves”, the earliest printed version of “I Saw Three Ships” is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William B. Sandys in 1833. The lyrics mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles away. The reference to three ships is thought to originate in the three ships that bore the purported relics of the Biblical magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century.