Deck the Halls

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"Deck the Halls" (originally titled "Deck the Hall") is a traditional Christmas carol. The melody is Welsh, dating back to the sixteenth century,[1] and belongs to a winter carol, "Nos Galan", while the English lyrics, written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant, date to 1862.

Lyrics[edit]

Thomas Oliphant's original English words as they appear in "Welsh Melodies With Welsh and English Poetry" (volume 2), published in 1862

The English-language lyrics were written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant. They first appeared in 1862, in volume 2 of Welsh Melodies, a set of four volumes authored by John Thomas, including Welsh words by John Jones (Talhaiarn) and English words by Oliphant.[2] The repeated "fa la la" goes back to the earlier Welsh and may originate from medieval ballads.[3] The lyrics run as follows:

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!
Troul the ancient Christmas carol,
Fa, 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!
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!
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

The phrase "'Tis the season", from the lyrics, has become synonymous with the Christmas and holiday season.[4][5] 'tis being an archaic contraction of "it is".[4]

Welsh lyrics[edit]

In the original 1862 publication, Oliphant's English lyrics were published alongside Talhaiarn's Welsh lyrics. Although some early sources state that Oliphant's words were a translation of Talhaiarn's Welsh original,[6] this is not the case in any strict or literal sense. The first verse in Welsh, together with a literal English translation taken from Campbell's Treatise on the language, poetry, and music of the Highland Clans (1862), is given for comparison:[7]

Goreu pleser ar nos galan,
Tŷ a thân a theulu diddan,
Calon lân a chwrw melyn,
Pennill mwyn a llais y delyn,

The best pleasure on new year's eve,
Is house and fire and a pleasant family,
A pure heart and brown ale,
A gentle song and the voice of the harp

Variants[edit]

Pennsylvania School Journal, 1877

A variation of the lyrics appears in the December 1877 issue of the Pennsylvania School Journal.[8] This version, in which there is no longer any reference to drinking, runs as follows:[9]

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Don we now our gay apparel,
Troll the ancient Christmas carol,

See the blazing yule before us,
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Christmas treasure,

Fast away the old year passes,
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather,

An identical printing appeared four years later in The Franklin Square Song Collection.[10]

The pluralizing of the title of the carol to "Deck the Halls" is found as early as 1892.[11]

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" and "Christmas treasure" to "Yuletide treasure".

Melody[edit]

Melody of "Deck the Hall", from John Hullah, The Song Book (1866)

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.[1] The music is in AABA form.[12]

Variants[edit]

The Pennsylvania version from 1877 omits the third "Fa la la" line (which corresponds to the instrumental flourish in the Welsh original).

The third and fourth "Fa la la" lines sung to the words "Deck the Hall" 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.

History[edit]

The tune is that of an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry dating back to the 1700s[citation needed]. 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 allegedly using it in his 18th violin sonata (1778)[13] and later Haydn arranged it in under the Welsh title, "Nos galan" (Hob. XXXIb:29, 1803).

The Welsh and English lyrics found in the earliest publication of the "Nos Galan" melody are as follows:[14]

First known publication of the melody "Nos Galan" (1794) by Edward Jones[14]

O mor gynnes mynwes meinwen,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la.
O mor fwyn yw llwyn 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.

Charts[edit]

Nat King Cole version[edit]

Chart (2019) Peak
position
US Rolling Stone Top 100[15] 20

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Goldstein, Jack (12 Nov 2013). 10 Amazing Christmas Carols - Volume 2. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781783333905.
  2. ^ John Jones (Talhaiarn); Thomas Oliphant; John Thomas (Pencerdd Gwalia) (1862). Welsh melodies: with Welsh and English poetry. ii. London: Addison, Hollier and Lucas. pp. 139–147. OCLC 63015609.
  3. ^ Carols.org. Last accessed December 13, 2011.[unreliable source?]
  4. ^ a b "Why Do We Say 'Tis the Season?". Grammarly. 22 December 2016.
  5. ^ "Christmas words: 'tis the season". Superlinguo.com. 15 December 2016.
  6. ^ Hullah, John (1866). The song book; words and tunes from the best poets and musicians. London: Macmillan. p. 325. OCLC 4340310.
  7. ^ Campbell, Donald (1862). A treatise on the language, poetry, and music of the Highland clans. Edinburgh: D. R. Collie & Son. pp. 214–215.. "Fa la la"s omitted for brevity
  8. ^ Wickersham, J. P., ed. (1877). The Pennsylvania School Journal. xxvi. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Inquirer Printing and Publishing Company. p. 226 – via hathitrust.org.
  9. ^ "Fa la la"s omitted for brevity; differences from the original emphasized
  10. ^ McCaskey, J.P. (1881). Franklin Square Song Collection. New York: Harper and Brothers. p. 120.
  11. ^ The Kingergarten Magazine vol. vi (September 1891 - June 1892). Kingergarten Publishing Company. 1892. p. 236.
  12. ^ Boyd, Jack (1991). Encore!: A Guide to Enjoying Music, p. 31. ISBN 978-0-87484-862-5.
  13. ^ "Christmas carols – William Studwell's Christmas Carols of the Year series". Chicago Tribune. December 6, 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  14. ^ a b Jones, Edward (1794). Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards. London. p. 159.
  15. ^ "Top 100 Songs". Rolling Stone. December 24, 2019. Retrieved December 31, 2019.

External links[edit]