God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

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God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
GenreChristmas carol
Based onLuke 2
Meter8.6.8.6.8.6 with refrain

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen is an English traditional Christmas carol. It is in the Roxburghe Collection (iii. 452), and is listed as no. 394 in the Roud Folk Song Index. It is also known as Tidings of Comfort and Joy, and by variant incipits as Come All You Worthy Gentlemen;[1] God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; God Rest Ye, Merry Christians;[2] or God Rest You Merry People All.[3]

History[edit]

It is one of the oldest extant carols, dated to the 16th century or earlier.[4] The earliest known printed edition of the carol is in a broadsheet dated to c. 1760.[5] The traditional English melody is in the minor mode; the earliest printed edition of the melody appears to be in a parody, in the 1829 Facetiae of William Hone. It had been traditional and associated with the carol since at least the mid-18th century, when it was recorded by James Nares under the title "The old Christmas Carol".[6]

The carol is referred to in Charles Dickens' 1843 A Christmas Carol: "... 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."

This carol also is featured in the second movement of the 1927 Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson.

Lyrics[edit]

The first recorded version is found in Three New Christmas Carols, dated c. 1760. Its first verse reads:

God rest ye, merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.( in a low key)[7]

The transitive use of the verb rest in the sense "to keep, cause to continue, to remain" is typical of 16th- to 17th-century language (the phrase rest you merry is recorded in the 1540s[8]). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase "God rest you merry" means "may God grant you peace and happiness."[9] Etymonline.com notes that the first line "often is mispunctuated" as "God rest you, merry gentlemen" because in contemporary language, rest has lost its use "with a predicate adjective following and qualifying the object" (Century Dictionary). This is the case already in the 1775 variant, and is also reflected by Dickens's replacement of the verb rest by bless in his 1843 quote of the incipit as "God bless you, merry gentlemen". [10] Some variants give the pronoun in the first line as ye instead of you,[2] in a pseudo-archaism.[11] In fact, ye would never have been correct, because ye is a subjective (nominative) pronoun only, never an objective (accusative) pronoun.

A variant text was printed in 1775 in The Beauties of the Magazines, and Other Periodical Works, Selected for a Series of Years. This text was reproduced from a song-sheet bought from a caroler in the street.[12] This version is shown here alongside the version reported by W. B. Sandys (1833)[13] and the version adopted by Carols for Choirs (OUP, 1961), which has become the de facto baseline reference in the UK.

The Beauties of the Magazines (1775) Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, W. B. Sandys (1833) Carols for Choirs (1961)

1. God rest you, merry gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas-day

To save poor souls from Satan's power,

Which long time had gone astray.

And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

1. God rest you merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

For Jesus Christ, our Saviour

Was born upon this day,

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas day.

1. God rest you merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born upon this day,

To save us all from Satan's power

When we were gone astray:

O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

2. From God that is our Father

The blessed angels came

Unto some certain shepherds,

With tidings of the same;

That he was born in Bethlehem

The Son of God by name.

And it is, etc.

2. In Bethlehem, in Jury[14]

This blessed babe was born

And laid within a manger

Upon this blessed morn

The which his mother Mary

Nothing did take in scorn.

O tidings, &c.'

2. From God our heavenly Father

A blessed angel came,

And unto certain shepherds

Brought tidings of the same,

How that in Bethlehem was born

The Son of God by name:

O tidings ...

3. Now when they came to Bethlehem,

Where our sweet Saviour lay,

They found him in a manger

Where oxen feed on hay.

The blessed Virgin kneeling down

Unto the Lord did pray.

And it is, etc.

3. From God our Heavenly Father

A blessed Angel came,

And unto certain Shepherds

Brought tidings of the same,

How that in Bethlehem was born

The Son of God by name.

O tidings, &c.

3. The shepherds at those tidings

Rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a-feeding

In tempest, storm and wind,

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

This blessed Babe to find:

O tidings ...

4. With sudden joy and gladness,

The shepherds were beguil'd,

To see the Babe of Israel

Before his mother mild.

O then with joy and cheerfulness

Rejoice each mother's child.

And it is, etc.

4. Fear not, then said the Angel,

Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour

Of virtue, power and might;

So frequently to vanquish all

The friends of Satan quite.

O tidings, &c.

4. But when to Bethlehem they came,

Whereat this Infant lay,

They found Him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay;

His mother Mary kneeling,

Unto the Lord did pray:

O tidings ...

5. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place

Like we true loving brethren,

Each other to embrace,

For the merry time of Christmas

Is coming on a-pace.

And it is, etc.

5. The Shepherds at those tidings

Rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a feeding

In tempest, storm and wind,

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

This blessed babe to find.

O tidings, &c.

5. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface:[15]

O tidings ...

<no further couplets>

6. But when to Bethlehem they came,

Whereas this infant lay,

They found him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay,

His mother Mary kneeling

Unto the Lord did pray.

O tidings, &c.

7. Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface.

O tidings, &c.

<no further couplets>


Cover versions[edit]

American country singer Garth Brooks's version of the song, for the week ending 8 January 2000, peaked at number sixty-nine each on Billboard Hot Country Songs[16] and Country Airplay.[17] For the week ending 7 January 2006, American contemporary Christian band MercyMe's version peaked at number thirty-four on Adult Contemporary,[18] number nine on Hot Christian Songs,[19] and number nine on Christian Airplay[20] The version also peaked at number forty-nine on Christian Digital Song Sales for the week ending 17 December 2011.[21] American smooth jazz gospel singer Tim Bowman's version peaked at number twenty-nine on Smooth Jazz Songs for the week ending 9 January 2010, the version's only week on the chart.[22]

The Glee Cast's version peaked at number eighteen on Billboard Holiday Digital Songs for the week ending 4 December 2010.[23] For the week ending 17 December 2011, American metalcore band August Burns Red's version peaked at number three on Hard Rock Digital Song Sales,[24] number thirty-five on Rock Digital Song Sales,[25] number one on Christian Digital Song Sales,[26] and number thirty-four on Holiday Digital Song Sales.[27] For the week ending 4 January 2014, the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies and singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan's version, included in the band's 2004 holiday album Barenaked for the Holidays, charted as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings", peaking at number twenty-two on Billboard Holiday Digital Songs[28] and number twenty-five on Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales.[29] American a-capella band Pentatonix's version, included in A Pentatonix Christmas (2016) and the soundtrack of the 2018 animated film adaptation of The Grinch, peaked at number seventy-three on Billboard Holiday 100 for the week ending 31 December 2016.[30] For the week ending 3 January 2018, Christian band Tenth Avenue North and Christian singer Sarah Reeves's version peaked at number eleven on Christian AC Songs[31] and number forty-four on Christian Airplay.[32] Canadian duo Ali & Theo's version peaked at number twenty on the Canada AC for the week ending 28 December 2019.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Come All You Worthy Gentlemen, For Christmas, Also known as The Somerset Carol, Title: "A Christmas Carol" Words and Music: English Traditional from Mr. Rapsey, of Bridgwater, Somerset. Cecil J. Sharp, ed., Folk Songs From Somerset. Series V. Second Edition. (London: Simpkin & Co., Ltd, 1909), #CXXVI, A Christmas Carol, pp. 68–69. "Come all you worthy gentlemen / That may be standing by. / Christ our blessed Saviour / Was born on Christmas day. / The blessed virgin Mary / Unto the Lord did say, O we wish you the comfort and tidings of joy! / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" "Words and air from Mr. Rapsey, of Bridgwater. Mr. Rapsey told me that he learned this carol from his mother, and that when he was a lad. he used to go round Bridgwater in company with other boys at Christmas time singing it. It is, apparently, a shortened version of the well known carol 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen' [...] Mr. Rapsey's words were not very clear and I was compelled to amend them in one or two places, but they appear in the text substantially as he sang them. The word 'say' in the penultimate lines of the first two verses I was at first inclined to regard as a corruption for 'pray,' which is the usual reading. But the Rev. Allen Brockington thought that 'say' was merely used intransitively, as is not unusual in Somerset, for 'talk,' i.e. 'prattle.' As this is at least a possible explanation I have retained the word that Mr. Rapsay sang." (Notes on the Songs, p. 91.)
  2. ^ a b "God Rest Ye, Merry Christians" in Mildred Gauntlett, Fifty Christmas Carols (London, 1906), p. 39 The use of ye may go back to alternative words written by Dinah Craik (1826–1887) given in Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916) with the title God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. This particular version has the incipit God rest you merry, gentlemen, but verses 2 and 3 begin God rest ye little children and God rest ye all good Christians, respectively.
  3. ^ Apparently designed as gender-neutral variant, recorded since the 1980s; mentioned in the Prince Alfred College Chronicle of 1980, p. 7 Archived 4 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Barrie Jones (ed.), The Hutchinson Concise Dictionary of Music, Routledge, 2014, s.v. "carol", "Christmas carols were common as early as the 15th century. [...] Many carols, such as 'God Rest You Merry Gentlemen' and 'The First Noel', date from the 16th century or earlier."
  5. ^ Three New Christmas Carols, London, [1760?]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale.
  6. ^ William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time vol. 2, 1859, p. 752 (hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com). Hone's version goes :"God rest you, merry gentlemen, / Let nothing you dismay; Remember we were left alive / Upon last Christmas Day, / With both our lips at liberty, / To praise Lord C[astlereag]h / For his 'practical' comfort and joy". Chappell states the earliest record of the words is in a manuscript by James Nares, entitled "The old Christmas Carol". In the Halliwell Collection of Broadsides, No. 263 1750?, Chetham Library, a song "The overthrow of proud Holofernes, and the Triumph of virtuous Queen Judith" is accompanied by the instruction that it is to be sung "to the tune of Tidings of comfort and joy.", indicating that Tidings of comfort and joy was well-known at the time and the primary lyrics associated with the tune. For the traditional English melody, see also David Holbrook and Elizabeth Poston (eds.), The Cambridge Hymnal (1967), pp. 236–37.
  7. ^ Three new carols for Christmas, printed by J. Smart (c. 1780–1800), has the first verse:
    God rest ye, merry Gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay;
    Remember Christ our Saviour,
    Was born on Christmas-day;
    To save us all from Satan's power,
    When we were gone astray:
    O Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
    Three new carols for Christmas. 1. God rest ye merry gentlemen, &c. 2. Good Christian people pray to give ear. 3. Let all good Christian people here." Wolverhampton, [between ca. 1780 and 1800?].
  8. ^ "rest, v.1". OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2020 Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  9. ^ "rest, v.1: Oxford English Dictionary". oed.com. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  10. ^ The word could mean "pleasant-sounding" (of animal voices), "handsome" (of a dress), "fine-tasting" (of herbs) or simply "fine" (of weather). The more profane associations of hedonistic "merry-making" developed only in the late 18th century, based on expressions such as merry-bout for sexual intercourse (1780) or merry-begot "illegitimate" (1785). See also Merry England.
  11. ^ ye is in origin the nominative of the second person plural pronoun see also Early Modern English pronouns.
  12. ^ "On Christmas Carrols" in The Beauties of the Magazines, and Other Periodical Works, Selected for a Series of Years (Vol. 2 of 2; 1775), printed for Gottlob Emanuel Richter, 87f.; OCLC 557616863, 83384270, 311914328
    "Beauties" in the series title is intended to denote works of literary merit. The author, identified as "C." (likely George Colman the Elder), rejects non-liturgical Christmas music by expounding the carol as an example of how
    "... an ignorant zeal in religion has occasioned many shocking sentiments to be broached that the greatest scoffers of Christianity would not dare to have uttered"
    He complains of
    "... having my ears pestered in every street this last week, by numberless women and children singing what they called Christmas carrols, but what, if I had heard them in an alehouse, or if they had been sung by drunken people in a night-cellar, I should have thought the most bare-faced reflections and the grossest buffoonry upon the most sacred subject that could be devised by the devil himself."
    C. says he bought the song-sheets of a woman singer –
    "[a] poor woman with two children bundled at her back and one in her arms, and who, I am persuaded, was very far from knowning what she said"
    to prevent her from continuing in her –
    "profane treatment of sacred subjects"
    and sends the text he found on the sheets to the magazine as an illustration of
    "the same carrols I have heard sung about the streets in this season for above these thirty years"
    (viz., since the 1740s).
  13. ^ William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern; Including the Most Popular in the West of England, and the Airs which They are Sung. Also Specimens of French Provincial Carols, London, Beckley (1833), 102–104 (hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com).
  14. ^ Jury for Jewry, i.e. "in Judaea".
  15. ^ The use of deface in the final verse of the 1833 and 1961 versions has the archaic meaning of "efface; outshine, eclipse"; because of the now more familiar meaning of "spoil, vandalize", the New English Hymnal of 1986 and other more recent versions replace it with efface.
  16. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Garth Brooks (chart history, Hot Country Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  17. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Garth Brooks (chart history, Country Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  18. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  19. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Hot Christian Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  20. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Christian Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  21. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', MercyMe (chart history, Christian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  22. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tim Bowman (chart history, Smooth Jazz Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Glee Cast Chart History (Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  24. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Hard Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  25. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  26. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', August Burns Red (chart history, Christian Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  27. ^ "August Burns Red (chart history, Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  28. ^ "Barenaked Ladies (chart history, Holiday Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  29. ^ "Barenaked Ladies (chart history, Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales)".
  30. ^ "Pentatonix (Chart History, Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  31. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tenth Avenue North Featuring Sarah Reeves (chart history, Christian AC Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  32. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Tenth Avenue North Featuring Sarah Reeves (chart history, Christian Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  33. ^ "'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', Ali & Theo (chart history, Canada AC)". Billboard. Retrieved 18 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • The New Oxford Book of Carols, ed. Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 527

External links[edit]