mickey-deck-halls

Words: The Welch lyrics “Nos Galan” by Talhaiarn (John Jones, 1810-1869) “translated” by Thomas Oliphant (1799-1873), ca. 1866. Other “Nos Galan” lyrics were written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887), ca. 1873.

Tune: Nos Galan (“New Year’s Eve”) from John Thomas’s Welsh Melodies with Welsh and English Poetry; this series by Thomas was a collaboration with John Talhaiarn Jones and Thomas Oliphant. There were four volumes, the first two published in 1862, the third in 1870 and the fourth in 1874.

Source: John Hullah, The Song Book (London: Macmillan and Co., 1884), Number CCXLVIII, p. 325. Said to have been published in the first edition of 1866.

 

  1. Deck the hall with boughs of holly,

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

Tis the season to be jolly,

     Caroling together merrily!

Don we now our gay apparel,

Toll the ancient Christmas carol,

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

 

  1. See the blazing Yule before us,

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

Strike the harp and join the chorus,

     Caroling together merrily!

Follow me in merry measure

While I tell of Christmas treasure;

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

 

  1. Fast away the old year passes,

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

Greet the new, ye lads and lassies,

     Caroling together merrily!

Sing once more, and all together,

Heedless of the wind and weather,

     Hail to Thee, Old Christmas, Hail to thee!

Note: These lyrics were included in a Christmas skit titled “A Christmas Pastime,” written by Mrs. L. A. Bradbury, who may or may not have been responsible for the lyrics. This version follows the same structure as Deck The Hall With Holly.

‘Deck the Hall’ by Nat King Cole

Perhaps the epitome of songs that celebrate the holiday of Christmas (as opposed to the Holy Day), this well-known carol is among the most well known, although, oddly, rarely recorded. In some versions, it barely acknowledges which holiday is being celebrated, but in all versions this is clearly a song of joyous celebration of the season, employing such phrases as “gay apparel,” “merry measure,” “joyous,” and “heedless,” plus the whimsical “Fa la la la la, la la la la” refrain. William Studwell also notes that the lyrics and music resemble songs from the 16th and early 17th century, especially the madrigals fashionable in the 16th century in England.

The tune, although not the words, appears to come from Wales, possibly in the 16th century, and form a part of “Nos Galan” (New Year’s Eve). According to Studwell, the nonsense word repetition (Fa la la la la … ) was a popular device used in the Middle Ages. The only example that I’ve come across was a song in McCaskey’s Franklin Square Song Collection, “The Alpine Horn.”

‘Deck the Hall,’ The Roches

According to scholars, the tune belongs to the Welsh canu penillion tradition, and goes back to the earliest meaning of the carol: a dance. Here, the dancers would dance in a ring around a harpist. The verses would be extemporized, and a participant would drop out when he or she would fail to sing a new verse (thus a kind of “forfeits” game). Originally, the harpist would play the “answering bars” (Fa la la la la la, etc.), but these nonsense syllables were substituted when harpers began to disappear. Thus the line “Troul the ancient Christmas carol” may refer to repeatedly singing verses to this tune, one meaning of “troul” (or “troll”).

According to one source, the tune’s popularity by the 18th century is demonstrated by the incorporation by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) in a duet for violin and piano (I have been unable to locate the correct title). Keyte and Parrott in The New Oxford Book of Carols wrote that there was an arrangement by Haydn or one of his pupils for voice and piano with violin and cello.

One of the earliest appearances of the tune is said to be from two editions of Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards by Edward Jones, a harpist (London: 1784, 1794). The lyrics in this edition had nothing to do with the Christmas-tide, but was a type of love song; see: Oh! How Soft My Fair One’s Bosom. The older “Deck the Hall” English lyrics bear almost no relation to the Welsh, but are evocative of pagan traditions, such as “Yule logs” and homes decorated with holly (the tradition of decorating the home on the first day of winter goes back to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Druids).

‘Deck the Hall,’ James Taylor

Note that these lyrics first appeared during a time when Victorian-era Brits and Americans were enthusiastically celebrating the Christmas traditions of their English forebearers. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was immensely popular, as were other works celebrating English Christmas traditions, such as those recalled by Washington Irving in Old Christmas.

This song has been the subject of many variations in the lyrics, at the sometimes indecipherable whims of editors. Occasionally some of these variations have been the subject of considerable controversy, as when a primary school teacher substituted the word “bright” for the word “gay” (according to published reports, the substitution was made because the students wouldn’t stop laughing when they sang the word “gay”). Parents were described as “furious” and “outraged” at the substitution. Thankfully, theologian and scholar Rev. Dr. Ian Bradley injected a moderating voice of reason when he was quoted as saying

“I think the giggling and the humour is the reason we sometimes play around with words now, which have a meaning that might make people laugh and detract from the overall theme. Substituting ‘bright apparel’ – I don’t think in that case makes a huge difference to the meaning. It doesn’t seem to me to be particularly bad, although it might be a bit unnecessary.” (from an article in the Daily Post, Dec. 10, 2011).

‘Deck the Hall,’ Mitch Miller and The Gang

In The Oxford Book of Carols (#50, pp. 102-103), there is a three-stanza paraphrase by Mrs. Katherine Emily (Clayton) Roberts (1877-1953) which was set to a musical arrangement by Perry Dearmer, beginning, “Now the joyful bells a-ringing. All ye mountains, praise the Lord!” (not included here because of copyright concerns). Her version has appeared in several hymn books including The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal with the arrangement by Wayne Hooper (1920-), 1984. There is also an English setting for SATB and organ by David Newbold (Novello). Other hymns by Katherine Roberts include “All Poor Men and Humble” (Christmas) and “O Lord, Thy People Gathered Here.” (Baptism)

The “Alternate Words” in the OBC were “Deck the hall with boughs of holly,” in three verses (the version found on this page by Thomas Oliphant).

Keyte and Parrott in The New Oxford Book of Carols (#164, pp. 559-561) featured three musical settings to the following sets of lyrics.

Oer yw’r gwr sy’n methucaru (The Welsh “Nos Galan” lyrics by John Ceiriog Hughes)

Soon The Hoar Old Year Will Leave Us (John Oxenford)

Deck the hall with boughs of holly (Thomas Oliphant, on this page)

An interesting set of lyrics were found in the 1915 Holiday Entertainments edited by Charles C. Shoemaker (Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Co., pp. 125-6). In a Christmas skit titled “A Christmas Pastime” we find this version of Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly.

An example of modern lyrics can be seen at Richard Kopp’s “Musica International.” Additional lyrics can be found at that site. English Lyrics to six verses can be found at CPDL.org, together with numerous scores (PDF, Finale, MIDI, GIF, Noteworthy Composer).

Arrangements for choirs can be found in the following:

Willcocks & Rutter, Carols for Choirs 2: Fifty Carols For Christmas and Advent. London: Oxford University Press, 1970, #7.

Willcocks and Rutter, Carols for Choirs 3: Fifty Carols. London: Oxford University Press, 1978, #15.

Willcocks and Rutter, Carols for Choirs 4: Fifty Carols for Sopranos and Altos. London: Oxford University Press, 1980, #7.

Willcocks and Rutter, 100 Carols for Choirs. London: Oxford University Press, 1987, #16.

 

Originally published at Douglas D. Anderson’s essential website The Hymns and Carols of Christmas and reprinted here by permission. After launching the website in 2002, Mr. Anderson, a former bluegrass musician, curated and updated it (it now contains more than 2,800 stories of Christmas carols and hymns, all thoroughly researched and sourced) for 12 years under great duress: he has survived an apparent heart attack and two bouts of Legionnaire’s Disease and now suffers daily migraines that keep him bedridden for most of the day, every day. Finally, on April 28, 2014, he announced his retirement and introduced Richard Jordan as the site’s new owner. Mr. Anderson is staying on, however, in an Emeritus role. “I will continue to provide new material to the site,” he says in his retirement announcement. “I intend to complete the incorporation of the texts to carols in Rev. Richard Terry’s Two Hundred Folk Carols, as well as two other of his works, A Medieval Carol Book and Old Christmas Carols, Part One. After that, I’ve got a list of old books that I’m continuing to look for, both in libraries and on-line.”

Now residing in Decatur, Alabama, Mr. Anderson is licensed as an amateur radio operator and also watches the weather as a National Weather Service SKYWARN “storm spotter.” He attends St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. In addition to assembling the largest collection of Christmas carols ever printed (privately) in the English language, he has edited more than two dozen volumes of Christmas poetry and prayer. His motto? “I’ve found that if we want to do good, we’d best not wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.”