My Dancing Day
DESCRIPTION: "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, I would my true love did so chance To see the legend of my play To call my true love to my dance." The story of the life of Jesus is repeated, with each stage being a reason why the true love should come to the dance
EARLIEST DATE: 1833 (Sandys)
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus dancing
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Dearmer/VaughnWilliams/Shaw-OxfordBookOfCarols 71, "My Dancing Day" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 146-148, "To-morrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" (1 text)
Wells-TheBalladTree, p. 197, (no title) (1 excerpt, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #90, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" (1 text)
NOTES [1252 words]: It would appear that this song is known only from Sandys (I've heard of broadside copies, but have yet to see one that predates Sandys). It is thus arguable that it is not a folk song, and should not be included.
There are, however, strong hints that it is much earlier than Sandys; the Oxford Book of Carols argues that it is from the sixteenth century or earlier, and Bradley in the Penguin Book of Carols thinks it medieval. The latter claim rests on pretty slender evidence (Bradley argues that the third line about seeing "the legend of my play" implies an origin in one of the mystery play cycles, and cites a claim from the New Oxford Book of Carols that it is resembles elements of Cornish play cycles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries).
That isn't the only, or even the best, evidence of antiquity in the text itself; the language sounds as if it predates Sandys, and the mention of the Harrowing of Hell hints at a date prior to the Anglican reformation. The Oxford Book of Carols suggests that the original was secular (which seems not unlikely -- probably a dance song). This might well explain the mix of popular legend and learned theology ("Then I was born of a virgin pure, Of her I took fleshly substance" reminds me of the Christological controversies of the early church.)
The theme of calling one's love to a dance is probably from the secular source, but there are four New Testament uses of the Greek word ορχεομαι, orcheomai, "to dance": Matt. 11:17, 14:16, Mark 6:22, Luke 7:32. Two of these uses (Matt 14:6, Mark 6:22) refer to the daughter of Herodias dancing before Herod Antipas and clearly would not be the source for this imagery. But the other two refer to children or musicians calling out their friends/playmates to dance, making it a very relevant image for evangelism. (The English word "to dance" is also used in translations of Luke 15:25, in the partying at the return of the prodigal son. This is somewhat less relevant, since the Greek word is χορος, choros, the song/dance of the Greek chorus -- but a reader of the English Bible would not know that).
The individual verses of the song are more biblical; they also have strong ties to the creeds. In the references below, "NC" refers to the Nicene Creed (created by the church in stages starting at the Council of Nicaea in 325, though the final version had to await the Council of Chalcedon over a century later; Bettenson, pp. 24-26, with English translation of the creeds; Christie-Murray, pp. 47-50, 71) while "AC" is the "Apostle's Creed" (which is certainly not Apostolic; it seems to come mostly from the Roman church. Boer, p. 73, claims "it is called the Apostles' Creed because it faithfully set s forth the central teachings of the Apostles." But even he admits on pp. 75-76 that the first elements were used only around 200 C.E., and the final form he dates to the fifth century. Bettenson, pp. 23-24, is less an apologist for the name; he says the elements of the Creed were first assembled by even later writers such as Marcellus and Rufinus, and reached its final form in the eighth century (Bettenson, pp. 23-24).
"Then I was born of a virgin pure": AC; Matthew 1:18-25. (Luke also says that Mary was a virgin at her marriage, but does not explicitly state the idea of the virgin birth. Of course, the phrase "virgin pure" is sometimes taken to refer to the Immaculate Conception, and the notion that Mary herself was born of some sort of parthenogenesis, but there is no Biblical hint of this; even the Catholic Church, while venerating Mary from a very early time, did not fully pronounce the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception until 1854; Christie-Murray, p.198).
"Of her I took fleshly substance": John 1:14; NC; cf. Gal. 4:4. Moderns rarely hear about this, but this was truly a key issue in some of the controversies of the early church; most Monophysite heresies made Jesus either entirely human or entirely divine, with an illusory human body. The belief that he was a divine illusion is known as Docetism, from a Greek word meaning "appearance" or perhaps "display" (Clifton, p. 36). (In the more extreme Gnostic forms, Jesus had to have a phantom body because all matter is evil; Nigg, p. 78. Obviously a song which admits a pleasure such as dancing opposes this view on several levels.) The statement that Jesus became flesh explicitly denies Docetism. The use of the word "substance" might also be significant, since much of the controversy related to the Nicene Creed had to do with the use of the word "substance" (ουσις, ousis) for Jesus; the word is non-Biblical (Christie-Murray, pp. 48-49; Qualben, p. 122), and there was dispute over whether Jesus was of "the same" substance or "like" substance with the Father. (A very small difference in Greek, involving only the addition or deletion of a single vowel.)
"In a manger laid and wrapped I was": Luke 2:7, 12, 16. There is no scriptural warrant for saying an ox and ass were present.
"Then afterward baptized I was, The Holy Ghost on me did glance": Jesus's baptism is told in Matt. 3:16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:22-23, John 1:29-34
"Into the desert I was led... The devil bad me make stones my bread": Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13
"The Jews... loved darkness rather than light": not an explicit quotation, but compare John 12:44-46, Matt 6:23; the treatment of Jesus as light is common in the New Testament.
"For thirty pence Judas me sold": According to Matthew 26:15, 27:3-9, Judas sold Jesus for "thirty of silver" (so literally, hence modern renderings "thirty pieces of silver"). That would be a lot more than thirty pence in today's money, but early silver pennies might have a value roughly comparable to the price paid to Judas. This is perhaps more evidence that the song is early.
"Mark whom I kiss": Matt 26:48-49, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48.
"Before Pilate the Jews me brought": AC; NC; Matt. 27:1-2, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1, John 18:28fff. It was in fact the high priests, not the Jewish population as a whole, who handed Jesus over (so all four Gospels, though John uses the word "Jews" in fairly close proximity to the description of Jesus being handed over to the Romans)
"Where Barabbas had deliverance": Matt 27:16-26, Mark 15;7-15, Luke 23:18, John 18:40
"Then on a cross hanged I was": Too many references to list; see e.g. Mark 15:25; AC; NC
"Where a spear to my side did glance": John 19:34. (The word used for the weapon is perhaps best translated "lance-head"; sometimes used as a medical instrument)
"There issued forth both water and blood": John 19:34.
"Then down to Hell I took my way": The Harrowing of Hell is non-Biblical. There is, in fact, no real Biblical explanation of what Jesus was doing during the roughly 36 hours between his death and resurrection. The Harrowing is, however, mentioned in the Catholic texts of AC (the Methodists and some other denominations suppress this). This is not a definitive argument on whether the song is pre- or post-Reformation (Anglicanism, unlike most of the Reformed denominations, allows prayer for the dead and hence admits the possibility of Purgatory; Bainton, p. 202), but the whole business was de-emphasized; the mention of the Harrowing would be much more likely to come from a Catholic than an Anglican (and more likely from an Anglican than a Presbyterian or Lutheran).
"And rose again on the third day": Again too many references to list; cf. e.g. Mark 16:6; AC; NC
"Then up to Heaven I did ascend": Acts 1:9-11; AC; NC. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Bainton: Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the sixteenth century, Beacon Press, 1952 (I use the 1959 paperback edition)
- Bettenson: Henry Bettenson, editor, Documents of the Christian Church, 1943, 1963 (I use the 1967 Oxford paperback edition)
- Boer: Harry R. Boer, A Short History of the Early Church, 1976 (I use the 1981 Eerdmans paperback)
- Christie-Murray: David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy, Oxford, 1976
- Clifton: Chas S. Clifton, Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, 1992 (I use the 1998 Barnes & Noble edition)
- Nigg: Walter Nigg, The Heretics: Heresy Throughout the Ages, an English translation and abridgement by Richard and Clara Winston of Nigg's Das Buch der Ketzer, 1949; translation copyright 1962 (I use the 1990 Dorset edition)
- Qualben: Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church, revised edition, Nelson, 1936
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