Or worse. Consider some of the lyrics of English wassail songs of yore:
A mug of your Christmas ale, sir,
Will make us merry and sing
But money in our pockets
Is much a better thing.
Come, butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
Then I hope that your soul in heaven may rest;
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small,
Then down fall butler, bowl and all!
We have come to claim our right.
And if you don’t open up your door,
We’ll lay you flat upon the floor.
Yikes. This less-than-serene sentiment—perhaps accompanied by axes and cudgels—was a far cry from the origins of Christmas. So much so that the stiff-collar Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, appalled by the violence, actually banned Christmas in the mid-1600s.
Ultimately, though, Christmas would be restored and wassail would evolve into one of the grandest traditions of the season: Christmas caroling. Those gentle songs we sing in the church pews today – “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in the Manger” – were written as drinking songs for the street.