Deck the Halls

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"Deck the Halls" or "Deck the Hall" (which is the 1877 title) is a traditional Christmas, yuletide, and New Years' carol. The melody is Welsh dating back to the sixteenth century, and belongs to a winter carol, "Nos Galan", while the English lyrics date to 1862.

The English lyrics first appeared (still called "Nos Gallan") in volume 2 of Welsh Melodies, a set of four volumes authored by John Thomas with Welsh words by John Jones (Talhaiarn) and English words by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant,[1] although the repeated "fa la la" goes back to the original Welsh "Nos Galan" and may originate from medieval ballads.[2] The song is in AABA form.[3] The series Welsh Melodies appears in four volumes, the first two in 1862, the third in 1870 and the final volume in 1874. As can be seen from the translation of "Nos Galan" below, "Deck the Hall(s)" is not a translation but new words by Oliphant to an old song.

Nos Galan[edit]

The melody of "Deck the Hall" is taken from "Nos Galan" ("New Year's Eve"), a traditional Welsh New Year's Eve carol published in 1794, although it is much older. The Welsh and English lyrics supplied there are as follows:[4]

O mor gynnes mynwes meinwen,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
O mor fwyn yw llwya meillionen,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
O mor felus yw'r cusanau,
[instrumental flourish]
Gyda serch a mwynion eiriau
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
Oh! how blessed are the blisses,
[instrumental flourish]
Words of love, and mutual kisses,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
The first known publication of "Nos Galan", from "Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards" by Edward Jones

Lyrics[edit]

The modern lyrics and melody of "Deck the Hall" are found in The Song Book edited by John Hullah, originally published in 1866.[1] The words are there ascribed to Thomas Oliphant, translated from the Welsh of Talhaiarn. The following lyrics are found in the printings of 1877 and 1881 (which are identical):

The publication of "Deck the Hall" in 1877: it is notable for omitting the two-bar instrumental flourish from the Welsh original, which became a further "Fa la la" in later versions
Thomas Oliphant's original English words as they appear in "Welsh Melodies With Welsh and English Poetry" (volume 2), published in 1862
Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel
Troll the ancient Christmas carol,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
See the blazing yule before us,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Christmas treasure,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la la la la la.

Oliphant's original words published in 1862 (which included the third round), were:-

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Troul the ancient Christmas carol,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
See the flowing bowl before us,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Follow me in merry measure,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
While I sing of beauty's treasure,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Laughing, quaffing all together,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la la la la la.

Variants[edit]

The major difference from the current version is the omission of the third "Fa la la" line in the early printings (which corresponds to the instrumental flourish in the Welsh original). The alteration of the first line to "Deck the halls" (plural) is found as early as the 1930s:[5] both "hall" and "halls" are found today.

The third and fourth 'Fa la la' lines sung to the words "Deck the Halls" differ from those sung or played in Wales, the fourth having a more arpeggiated melody in the Welsh version and the third differing in both melody and rhythm.

Other common alterations change "Christmas" to "Yule" or "Yuletide" in various locations where it appears. For example, "Christmas carol" may be changed to "Yuletide carol". By the 1970s, perhaps because of developments in the meaning of the word "gay", we see the line "Don we now our gay apparel" changed to "Fill the mead-cup, drain the barrel" in some sources.[6]

In the eighteenth century Mozart used the melody for a violin and piano duet, Sonata No. 18.[2]

History[edit]

Piano solo of "Deck the Halls"

Alternate version for Deck the Halls. Two violins, viola and Violoncello.

Concert band version performed by United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants

Problems playing these files? See media help.

The tune is that of an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry Ddall dating back to the 1700s. Poet John Ceiriog Hughes later wrote his own lyrics. A middle verse was later added by folk singers. In the eighteenth century the tune spread widely, with Mozart using it in a piano and violin concerto[7] and, later, Haydn in the song "New Year's Night."

Originally, carols were dances and not songs. The accompanying tune would have been used as a setting for any verses of appropriate metre. Singers would compete with each other, verse for verse—known as canu penillion dull y De ("singing verses in the southern style"). The church actively opposed these folk dances. Consequently, tunes originally used to accompany carols became separated from the original dances, but were still referred to as "carols". The popular English lyrics for this carol are not a translation from the Welsh.

The connection with dancing is made explicit in the English lyrics by the phrase "follow me in merry measure" as "measure" is a synonym for dance. A collection of such sixteenth and seventeenth century dances danced at the Inns of Court in London are called the Old Measures. Dancing itself having been previously suppressed by the church was revived during the renaissance beginning in fifteenth century Italy.

In 1862, Thomas Oliphant's English lyrics, "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly", appears in Welsh Melodies with Welsh and English Poetry, volume 2. published by Addison, Hollier and Lucas, 210 Regent Street, London, England. The Welsh melody with English lyrics then appeared in the December 1877 issue of the Pennsylvania School Journal, with the melody, described as a "Welsh Air" appearing in four-part harmony.[8] The melody is substantially today's, except that the third "Fa la la" is omitted. An identical printing appeared four years later in The Franklin Square Song Collection.[9]

Charles Wood arranged a version, the words from Talhaiarn; translated by Thomas Oliphant. Oliphant died in 1873 and the English version of the 1881 publication (The Franklin Square Song Collection) is also attributed to Oliphant.[10]

SHeDAISY version[edit]

"Deck the Halls"
Single by SHeDAISY
from the album Brand New Year
B-side "Deck the Halls" (Radio Mix)
Released November 9, 1999
Format CD single
Recorded 1999
Genre Country pop
Length 3:50
Label Lyric Street
Producer(s) Dann Huff

In 1999, an adaptation of "Deck the Halls" was released by country music group SHeDAISY for Disney animated film Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. The song was later included on the group's Christmas album, Brand New Year, released in 2000. The music video filmed for the song features scenes from Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1999–2001) Peak
position
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[11] 37
US Billboard Hot 100[12] 61

Red Hot Chili Peppers version[edit]

"Deck the Halls"
Single by Red Hot Chili Peppers
from the album Out in L.A.
B-side "Knock Me Down"
Released 1994
Format 7" single
Genre funk rock, parody
Length 1:02
Label EMI
Red Hot Chili Peppers singles chronology
"Soul to Squeeze"
(1993)
"Deck the Halls"
(1994)
"Warped"
(1995)

Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded a joke version of the song which was released on their 1994 outtakes compilation, Out in L.A.. The song was released as a very rare 7" jukebox only single and included the band's 1989 single, "Knock Me Down" as the b-side.[13]

Tracklisting[edit]

  1. "Deck the Halls"
  2. "Knock Me Down"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hullah, John (1866). The song book; words and tunes from the best poets and musicians. London: Macmillan. p. 325. OCLC 4340310. 
  2. ^ a b Carols.org. Last accessed December 13, 2011.[unreliable source?]
  3. ^ Boyd, Jack (1991). Encore!: A Guide to Enjoying Music, p. 31. ISBN 978-0-87484-862-5.
  4. ^ Jones, Edward (1794). Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards. London. p. 159. 
  5. ^ e.g. Lenski, Lois (1936). Phebe Fairchild, her book. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes Co. p. 75. OCLC 1667346. 
  6. ^ e.g. Hymn Society of America (1975). The Hymn, vols. 26-27. Fort Worth, TX: Hymn Society of America. OCLC 1605454. 
  7. ^ "Christmas carols -- William Studwell's Christmas Carols of the Year series - chicagotribune.com". The Chicago Tribune (Tribune Newspapers). 2010. Retrieved 2011-10-08. 
  8. ^ Wickersham (ed.), J.P. (1877). The Pennsylvania School Journal, vol. xxvi. Lancaster, PA: Inquirer Printing and Publishing Company. p. 226. 
  9. ^ McCaskey, J.P. (1881). Franklin Square Song Collection. New York: Harper and Brothers. p. 120. 
  10. ^ The Franklin Square Song Collection
  11. ^ "SHeDAISY Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot Country Songs for SHeDAISY.
  12. ^ "SHeDAISY Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for SHeDAISY.
  13. ^ "Red Hot Chili Peppers - Deck The Halls (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  • Pages 159–160 in Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards, Edward Jones: London, Printed for the Author, 1794. Available on Google Digital

External links[edit]