God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
DESCRIPTION: "God rest you merry, gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our savior Was born on Christmas day... Oh tidings of comfort and joy." The birth of Jesus is recounted and listeners urged to sing praise and rejoice in the new year
EARLIEST DATE: 1820 ("A Political Christmas Carol" is an undeniable parody of this piece)
KEYWORDS: religious carol Christmas Jesus nonballad
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South)) Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 581, "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen" (1 text)
KarpelesCrystal 106, "God Bless you Merry Gentlement" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickert, pp. 105-107, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" (1 text)
Cox-Newfoundland, pp. 92-93, "God Bless You Merry Gentlemen" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBC 11, "God Rest You Merry"; 12, "God Rest You Merry" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Fireside, p. 260, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 378, "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, p. 249, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen"
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #26, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" (1 text)
cf. "Somerset Carol"
A Political Chrismas Carol (William Hone's 1820 satire on Lord Castlereigh) (Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_, pp. 101-102)
NOTES [214 words]: Although this song is often sung in America as if punctuated, "God rest you, merry gentlemen" (and, indeed, at least one of my old hymnals, The Parish School Hymnal of 1926, writes it that way), there is agreement that the correct reading is "God rest you merry, gentlemen." The gentlemen are being wished merriment, not being called merry.
Bradley in the Penguin Book of Carols notes several other problems with the song: sexist language, non-Biblical details (common in traditional carols, of course), and the bad theology that "this holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface." I'm not sure I buy that last one -- yes, the essence of the Christian message is the Atonement, which is celebrated in Good Friday and Easter. But Christmas celebrates the *beginning* of the Incarnation, so surely it would be more important than any day in the calendar except Good Friday, Easter, and maybe Ascension Sunday. So Christmas would seem to deface at least 99% of other days. Good enough for ordinary engineering purposes.
Bradley notes that this song seems to have been sung to several tunes in its early years. The common tune (the so-called "London Tune") was collected by Rimbault in 1846 and seemingly first printed in connection with these words by Bramley and Stainer in 1871. - RBW
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