The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Deck The Hall

For Christmas

Alternate Titles: Deck The Halls

Compare: Soon The Hoar Old Year Will Leave Us (John Oxenford, 1812-1877), ca. 1873
Deck The Hall With Holly (J. P. McCaskey, 1881)
Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly Anonymous (possibly alt. by Mrs. L. A. Bradbury, 1915)

Words: The Welch lyrics "Nos Galan" by Talhaiarn (John Jones, 1810-1869)
“translated” by Thomas Oliphant (1799-1873), ca. 1866.
Other Nos Galan” lyrics were written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887), ca. 1873.

Tune: Nos Galan (“New Year's Eve”) from John Thomas's Welsh Melodies with Welsh and English Poetry; this series by Thomas was a collaboration with John Talhaiarn Jones and Thomas Oliphant. There were four volumes, the first two published in 1862, the third in 1870 and the fourth in 1874.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML

Source: John Hullah, The Song Book (London: Macmillan and Co., 1884), Number CCXLVIII, p. 325. Said to have been published in the first edition of 1866.

1. 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 mead-cup, drain the barrel,
    Fa la la, la la, la la la,
Troul the ancient Christmas carol,
    Fa la la la la, la la la la.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Sheet Music from John Hullah, The Song Book (1866, 1884)

Sheet Music from Edward Jones, Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1794), pp. 159-160. The first edition was in 1784.

Nos_Galan-159-1794.jpg (163984 bytes)  Nos_Galan-160-1794.jpg (144695 bytes)

Note: I've also read that the tune Nos Galen was published by John Parry (or John Parry Ddall) in "British Harmony," 1781, as one of 42 tunes with Welsh titles, however I haven't been able to see a copy.

Sheet Music from Charles Villiers Stanford, The National Song Book (1906)

See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3:
Deck the Halls, Fabio Vicentini

Editor's Note:

The commas in the "Fa la la la ..." portions of the verses were added by me; there's enough of them that I was losing count, and the addition of the commas was my solution.

In this context, the word "troul" in the line "Troul the ancient Christmas carol" means to sing loudly or boldly, and can also mean to sing a song's verses repeatedly, as in a round.

Notes:

Perhaps the epitome of songs which celebrate the holiday of Christmas (as opposed to the Holy Day), this well-known carol is among the most well known, although, oddly, rarely recorded. In some versions, it barely acknowledges which holiday is being celebrated, but in all versions this is clearly a song of joyous celebration of the season, employing such phrases as "gay apparel," "merry measure," "joyous," and "heedless," plus the whimsical "Fa la la la la, la la la la" refrain. William Studwell also notes that the lyrics and music resemble songs from the 16th and early 17th century, especially the madrigals fashionable in the 16th century in England.

The tune, although not the words, appear to come from Wales, possibly in the 16th century, and form a part of "Nos Galan" (New Year’s Eve). According to Studwell, the nonsense word repetition (Fa la la la la ... ) was a popular device used in the Middle Ages. The only example that I've come across was a song in McCaskey's Franklin Square Song Collection, "The Alpine Horn" (see right).

According to scholars, the tune belongs to the Welsh canu penillion tradition, and goes back to the earliest meaning of the carol: a dance. Here, the dancers would dance in a ring around a harpist. The verses would be extemporized, and a participant would drop out when he or she would fail to sing a new verse (thus a kind of "forfeits" game). Originally, the harpist would play the "answering bars" (Fa la la la la la, etc.), but these nonsense syllables were substituted when harpers began to disappear. Thus the line "Troul the ancient Christmas carol" may refer to repeatedly singing verses to this tune, one meaning of "troul" (or "troll").

According to one source, the tune's popularity by the 18th century is demonstrated by the incorporation by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) in a duet for violin and piano (I have been unable to locate the correct title). Keyte and Parrott in The New Oxford Book of Carols wrote that there was an arrangement by Haydn or one of his pupils for voice and piano with violin and cello.

One of the earliest appearances of the tune is said to be from two editions of Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards by Edward Jones, a harpist (London: 1784, 1794). The lyrics in this edition had nothing to do with the Christmas-tide, but was a type of love song; see: Oh! How Soft My Fair One's Bosom. The older "Deck the Hall" English lyrics bear almost no relation to the Welsh, but are evocative of pagan traditions, such as "Yule logs" and homes decorated with holly (the tradition of decorating the home on the first day of winter goes back to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Druids).

Note that these lyrics first appeared during a time when Victorian-era Brits and Americans were enthusiastically celebrating the Christmas traditions of their English forebearers. Dickens' A Christmas Carol was immensely popular, as were other works celebrating English Christmas traditions, such as those recalled by Washington Irving in Old Christmas.

This song has been the subject of many variations in the lyrics, at the sometimes indecipherable whims of editors. Occasionally some of these variations have been the subject of considerable controversy, as when a primary school teacher substituted the word "bright" for the word "gay" (according to published reports, the substitution was made because the students wouldn't stop laughing when they sang the word "gay"). Parents were described as "furious" and "outraged" at the substitution. Thankfully, theologian and scholar Rev. Dr. Ian Bradley injected a moderating voice of reason when he was quoted as saying

“I think the giggling and the humour is the reason we sometimes play around with words now, which have a meaning that might make people laugh and detract from the overall theme. Substituting 'bright apparel' – I don’t think in that case makes a huge difference to the meaning. It doesn’t seem to me to be particularly bad, although it might be a bit unnecessary.”

(from an article in the Daily Post, Dec. 10, 2011).

In the The Oxford Book of Carols (#50, pp. 102-103), there is a 3-stanza paraphrase by Mrs. Katherine Emily (Clayton) Roberts (1877-1953) which was set to a musical arrangement by Perry Dearmer, beginning, “Now the joyful bells a-ringing. All ye mountains, praise the Lord!” (not included here because of copyright concerns). Her version has appeared in several hymn books including The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal with the arrangement by Wayne Hooper (1920-), 1984. There is also an English setting for SATB and organ by David Newbold (Novello). Other hymns by Katherine Roberts include

The “Alternate Words” in the OBC were “Deck the hall with boughs of holly,” in three verses (the version found on this page by Thomas Oliphant).

Keyte and Parrott in The New Oxford Book of Carols (#164, pp. 559-561) featured three musical settings to the following sets of lyrics.

An interesting set of lyrics were found in the 1915 Holiday Entertainments edited by Charles C. Shoemaker (Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Co., pp. 125-6). In a Christmas skit titled "A Christmas Pastime" we find this version of Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly.

An example of modern lyrics can be seen at Richard Kopp's “Musica International.” Additional lyrics can be found at that site. English Lyrics to six verses can be found at CPDL.org, together with numerous scores (PDF, Finale, MIDI, GIF, Noteworthy Composer).

Arrangements for choirs can be found in the following:

It has also been the subject of many parodies, many of which cannot be reproduced on this child-safe site. Here are a few which are, to the best of my recollection, safe for all:

An excellent exchange of ideas and knowledge concerning Nos Galan and Deck the Hall can be found at the Mudcat Cafe. The participants provided me with several hints for additional research.

Instrumental sheet music to this and 12 other carols may be downloaded from Sally DeFord Music, http://www.defordmusic.com/carolsforpiano.htm (site accessed September 30, 2006). An MP3 of this arrangement is also available at that page.

Sources:

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