Wren Boys: Song, Jig & Polka
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
So for St Stephen's Day, that's Boxing Day ~ the day after Christmas, you're supposed to go parade a dead bird around town and hit up your better-off neighbors for leftovers & cash gifts, ostensibly so you can give the bird a proper burial. This caroling/ wassail tradition seems to have had a pagan ~ magical aspect, among the wren songs are some that detail the preternatural powers of the wren, King of all Birds.
The jig that follows is one I know as the Steamboat Quickstep, a fife and drum tune that dates back at least as far as the US Civil War. It must have been a popular enough tune, Tchaikovsky uses it for the Christmas party scene in his 1892 ballet, The Nutcracker. I learned the third tune very early in my fiddling career, it was part of a set of polkas from a cassette I had of Touchstone, a really great Irish band based in North Carolina in the 1980's. I only just recently learned that it was associated with the Wren Boys, some folks call it the Polca an Dreoilín (Wren Polka).