The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

It Was My Father's Custom

"A Merry Christmas Song"

Alternate Title: "My Father's Customs"

Words: Jas Stonehouse

Music: Frederic Shrivall (born ca. 1817 - Sussex, England)

Source: John Diprose, ed., Diprose's Comic and Sentimental Song Book. New Edition. London: J. Diprose, Fleet Street, 1856, 1862), p. 23, and
E. W. Cole, ed., The Thousand Best Songs In The World (Hutchinson & Co., 1892), p. 287,
as well as other popular collections of that era.
Diprose noted "Music at A. W. Hammond's"

1. COME hither, bring the holly bush to decorate the wall,1
With noble bough of mistletoe2 to hang amid the hall ;
Spread wide the snowy table-cloth upon the shining board,
And bring the best of ev‘rything the larder can afford;
Arrange a seat for ev’ry guest,3 let here the glasses shine,
It was my father’s custom, and so it shall be mine.

2. Bring here the massy yule log,4 and the fire pile well up,5
For we must draw around it, to drink the wassail cup;6
The harmless joke we’ll pass about, with spirits gay and light,
Our laughter, too, shall ring around, and echo here to-night.7
The old their gossip shall enjoy, the youth in mirth combine,
These were my father’s customs, and so they shall be mine.

3. Now see the guests assemble, with each a smiling face,8
They bend their heads in silence to ask a holy grace;
Now hark how plates are rattling,9 the guests enjoy the cheer,
And see the viands,10 great and small, all swiftly disappear.
Be gay, my friends, be merry now,11 to feast let none decline,
These were my father's customs, and so they shall be mine.

4. Now clear away the dishes all,12 but let the wine remain;
Bring oranges from Portugal, and grapes from sunny Spain—
Place here the cakes, and there the nuts, and there the rich preserve.
Good housewife, set your dainties forth,13 keep nothing in reserve;
Bring out the bowl, the jolly bowl, and brim it up with wine,14
It was my father’s custom, and so it shall be mine.

5. Now clear away the tables, and set aside each chair,15
And let the merry music for jocund dance prepare;16
We’ll play the games, the Christmas games, blind man and hunt the shoe,
And kiss the lasses round and round, beneath the mistletoe;17
For Christmas joys come once a year, to honor them combine,18
It was my father’s custom, and so it shall be mine.

6. Now fill your glasses to the brim, let toasts go gaily round—
The Queen! and may her glorious reign with love and peace be crown’d;
Come fill again— “the Army" drink, with “England's wooden walls,”
And surely no true heart will pass “All friends around St. Paul’s;"
And now a health to “Woman fair," in bumpers, nine times nine,
It was my father's custom, and so it shall be mine.*

  * This additional stanza may be sung (ad lib.) between the 4th and 5th verses.


1. Or "to decorate the Hall." Return.

2. Or "With Jolly boughs of mistletoe" or "With lofty boughs of mistletoe." Return.

3. Or "Then place a seat for ev’ry guest" Return.

4. Or "Bring here the massive yule log." or "Now bring the massive yule log." Return.

5. Or "and the fire fill well up" Return.

6. Or "to drain the wassail cup" Return.

7. Or "Our laughter shall ring out aloud, and echo with delight." Return.

8. Or "each with a smiling face," Return.

9. Or "Hark! the glasses are rattling" Return.

10. Or "And see the friends" Return.

11. Or "be merry boys" Return.

12. Or "Now clear away the table cloth," Return.

13. Or "Good house wife, bring your dainties forth" Return.

14. Or "Then bring out the bowl, the jolly bowl, and fill it up with wine" Return.

15. Or "and take away each chair" Return.

16. Or "And let the merry music rejoicing dance prepare" or "And tell the merry music for rejoice dance prepare." Return.

17. Or "under the mistletoe" Return.

18. Or "For Christmas joys comes but once a year, its joy let none decline" Return.

Broadsides from the Bodleian Library

Firth C 19(242) Harding B 11(1377) Harding B 11(1821) Harding B 11(2534) Harding B 18(306)
Firth c.19(242).jpg (400569 bytes)

5 verses

Harding B 11(1377).jpg (190468 bytes)

5 verses

Harding B 11(1821).jpg (186465 bytes)

5 verses

Harding B 11(2534).jpg (251726 bytes)

5 verses

4 verses (1, 2, 4, 5)



Five broadsides are seen at Ballads On Line, the Bodleian Library, Roud Number V8860 or Bod3236 (erroneously classified with Roud V14941, Title: My Mother's Customs, First Line: Come hither bring the scrubbing-brush, and chuck away the slops):

  1. H.P. Such, Machine Printer and Publisher, 177, Union Street, Borough, S.E., London, between 1863 and 1885; in collection Firth C19 (242).

  2. W.S. Fortey, General Steam Printer and Publisher, 2 & 3, Monmouth Court, Bloomsbury, London, between 1858 and 1885; in collection Harding B11 (1377).

  3. Ryle and Co., Printers, 2 and 3, Monmouth Court, Seven Dials, London, between 1845 and 1859; in collection Harding B11 (1821).

  4. E. M. A. Hodges, (from Pitt's), wholesale Toy and Marble warehouse, 31, [Dudley] Street, Seven Dials, London, between 1846 and 1854; in collection Harding B11 (2534).

  5. J. Andrews, Printer, 38 Chatham St., New York, N.Y., circa 1860; in collection Harding B18 (306).

The J. Andrews broadside is also found in the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets (American Memory, Performing Arts-Music).

This carol is sometimes found in four verses — especially in the song books — omitting verses 3 or 4 and 6, above, as seen in the broadside by J. Andrews, New York.

The extensive differences often reflect a song that has passed orally in the country, but with lyrics not exactly remembered from one musician to another. The changes in only two broadsides were noted, Harding B11 (2534) and Harding B18 (306); additional changes appear in Firth C19(242), Harding B11(1377), and Harding B11(1821).

Thanks to a friend of this site, J. A. Hefner (a.k.a. "Hef Dawg"), for the names of the author of the lyrics and the composer of the music. Although the words are found in a number of mid-1800s song books and broadsides, no source had the music. However, you can hear the original score by Frederick Shrivall at YouTube performed by David Coffin, Megan Henderson, and the Revels Chorus, from their album "From Parlour to Palace: Victorian Music from the Christmas Revels" (Revels Records): It Was My Father's Custom <, accessed December 6, 2016>. In this version, the last line, "It was my father’s custom, and so it shall be mine," is repeated by the Chorus.

The composer, Frederick Shrivall, wrote numerous compositions and was widely published. One that looked promising for this site, "Hark! I Hear An Angel Sing", turned out to be an Arbor Day song, unfortunately. The first four lines of the first verse:

Hark! I hear an angel sing, —
Angels now are on the wing,
And their voices, singing clear,
Tell us that the spring is near.

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