We thought we had it on good authority that public wassailing could get you arrested in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Not so. “Wassailing” is actually a British expression, and it turns out that not only is Christmas celebrated in the United Kingdom (who knew?) but “wassailing” is what British people call caroling. Since learning this the Idler has become a big fan of wassailing, to the extent that it involves groups of wassailers randomly going to peoples’ houses, standing around and singing aloud. This ear-splitting racket continues until the residents come out to convince the wassailers to leave, whether by offers of rewards or threats of reprisals. And since people tend to keep their dogs inside when it’s cold, this is one of the best times of the year to go a-wassailing. The important thing is to pick the right songs.
It’s probably best to leave the classic, religious type carols to trained singers and choirs. Many of them contain complicated, archaic and hard to pronounce lyrics – some of which are even in other languages – and it’s entirely possible that after one or two stiff eggnogs you might inadvertently wassail something blasphemous in Latin. So you want to go with the more modern tunes. But you want to beware of the extremely modern ones. Paul McCartney came up with one called “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” that contains the following lyrics:
“The moon is right
The spirit’s up
We’re here tonight
And that’s enough”
Yeah, that’s enough. As lyrics, they’re simple enough and easy to remember. The problem is they’re stupid. Also, synthesizers were big then so it sounds even stupider acapella. It was a hit for Christmas 1979, but in January 1980 Paul got busted in a Japanese airport with half a pound of marijuana. They revoked his ticket to ride. He was a real nowhere man. He had ten hard days nights in jail. (I got a million of ‘em.) But it offers some insight into the grooviness of the lyrics.
So, what do you have left? There’s “The Christmas Song”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”, all of which are Christmas songs that are self consciously about the totally commercialized Christmas season. You have “Jingle Bells” and “Over The River and Through the Woods” which are about a mode of transportation that’s been obsolete for about a century. And you got your “Let It Snow”,“Walking In A Winter Wonderland” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” which are about weather. So there’s a pretty workable playlist. I can’t overemphasize the danger of venturing into songs like the Beach Boys’ “”Little Saint Nick” which requires some experienced falsettos to wail the “woo-ooo-ooo” parts or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” which has been shown to cause brain damage in hamsters.
Finally, there’s a Christmas song that has listeners all over the nation phoning in bomb threats to radio stations. That song is “Last Christmas” by George Michael, a fellow with a rather colorful arrest record. You should never listen to this song and you should definitely not try to sing it even if George Michael himself asks you to. And whatever you do, don’t go “a-wassailing” with him.