God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
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"God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen", also known as "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "God Rest You Merry People All", is an English traditional Christmas carol. The melody is in the minor mode. It was published by William B. Sandys in 1833, although the author is unknown.
Like so many early Christmas songs, the carol was written as a direct reaction to the church music of the 15th century. However, in the earliest known publication of the carol, on a c. 1760 broadsheet, it is described as a "new Christmas carol", suggesting its origin is actually in the mid-18th century. It appeared again among "new carols for Christmas" in another 18th century source, a chapbook believed to be printed between 1780 and 1800.
It is referred to in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, 1843: "...at the first sound of 'God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!', Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost."
There is some confusion today about the meaning of the first line, which may seem archaic to modern ears. It is usually given today as "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", with a comma after the word "merry", so does not refer to "merry gentlemen". "Rest" here denotes "keep or make," with "you" as the object of "rest. The claim that "merry" once meant "mighty," and is so used here is not supported by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives 16 definitions of the word, some going back to the 10th century, all having to do with pleasure or enjoyment. In both of the 18th-century instances, "you" was used instead of "ye," suggesting that the latter may be a modern insertion to make the carol sound more quaintly archaic.
The carol exists in a wide variety of versions, some with differing numbers of verses.
- Circa 1760 (from Three New Christmas Carols, Printed and Sold at the Printing-Office on Bow Church-Yard, London):
God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.
- Circa 1780–1800 (from Three new carols for Christmas, Wolverhampton, printed by J. Smart):
[Punctuation reproduced from the original—in this instance there is no comma after "merry."]
God rest you merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas-day;
To save our souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray:
This brings Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
- In the UK, the de facto baseline reference version is that adopted by Carols for Choirs, (OUP, 1961):
- Carols.org God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen lyrics
- Three new Christmas carols, [London], [1760?]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale.
- Three new carols for Christmas. 1. God rest you merry gentlemen, &c. 2. Good Christian people pray give ear. 3. Let all good Christian people here." Wolverhampton, [between ca. 1780 and 1800?]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale.
- The New Oxford Book of Carols, ed. Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 527
- An eight-verse version of this carol can be heard at New Star Sound
- Arrangements for Piano and Voice from Cantorion.org
- This hymn on Hymns Without Words
- This hymn on The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
- This hymn on Oremus
- Audio sample of the song performed by the German choir Outta Limits
- Discussion of lyrics and grammar of the first line by Catherine Osborne