"Deck the Halls" (originally titled "Deck the Hall") is a traditional Christmas carol. The melody is Welsh, dating back to the sixteenth century, and belongs to a winter carol, "Nos Galan", while the English lyrics, written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant, date to 1862.
The English-language lyrics were written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant. They first appeared in 1862, in volume 2 of Welsh Melodies, a set of four volumes authored by John Thomas, including Welsh words by John Jones (Talhaiarn) and English words by Oliphant. The repeated "fa la la" goes back to the earlier Welsh and may originate from medieval ballads. The lyrics run as follows:
<poem>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 meadcup, drain the barrel, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la! Troul the ancient Christmas carol, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
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!
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!</poem>
In the original 1862 publication, Oliphant's English lyrics were published alongside Talhaiarn's Welsh lyrics. Although some early sources state that Oliphant's words were a translation of Talhaiarn's Welsh original, this is not the case in any strict or literal sense. The first verse in Welsh, together with a literal English translation taken from Campbell's Treatise on the language, poetry, and music of the Highland Clans (1862), is given for comparison: <poem lang="cy" style="float:left;">Goreu pleser ar nos galan, Tŷ a thân a theulu diddan, Calon lân a chwrw melyn, Pennill mwyn a llais y delyn,</poem> <poem style="margin-left:2em; float:left;">The best pleasure on new year's eve, Is house and fire and a pleasant family, A pure heart and brown ale,
A gentle song and the voice of the harp</poem>
<poem>Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
'Tis the season to be jolly, Don we now our gay apparel, Troll the ancient Christmas carol,
See the blazing yule before us, Strike the harp and join the chorus. Follow me in merry measure, While I tell of Christmas treasure,
Fast away the old year passes, Hail the new, ye lads and lasses! Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather,</poem>
An identical printing appeared four years later in The Franklin Square Song Collection.
The pluralizing of the title of the carol to "Deck the Halls" is found as early as 1892.
Other common alterations change "Christmas" to "Yule" or "Yuletide" in various locations where it appears. For example, "Christmas carol" may be changed to "Yuletide carol" and "Christmas treasure" to "Yuletide treasure".
The Pennsylvania version from 1877 omits the third "Fa la la" line (which corresponds to the instrumental flourish in the Welsh original).
The third and fourth "Fa la la" lines sung to the words "Deck the Hall" differ from those sung or played in Wales, the fourth having a more arpeggiated melody in the Welsh version and the third differing in both melody and rhythm.
The tune is that of an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry dating back to the 1700s. Poet John Ceiriog Hughes later wrote his own lyrics. A middle verse was later added by folk singers. In the eighteenth century the tune spread widely, with Mozart allegedly using it in his 18th violin sonata (1778) and later Haydn arranged it in under the Welsh title, "Nos galan" (Hob. XXXIb:29, 1803).
In 1912, Ruth Herbert Lewis made a wax cylinder recording of a Welshman named Benjamin Davies singing a song, "Can y Coach faier", which uses the old melody now associated with "Deck the Halls". The recording can be heard on the British Library Sound Archive website.
The Welsh and English lyrics found in the earliest publication of the "Nos Galan" melody are as follows:
<poem lang="cy" style="margin-left:1em; float:left;">O mor gynnes mynwes meinwen, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. O mor fwyn yw llwyn meillionen, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. O mor felus yw'r cusanau, [instrumental flourish] Gyda serch a mwynion eiriau fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la.</poem> <poem style="margin-left:1em; float:left;">Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how blessed are the blisses, [instrumental flourish] Words of love, and mutual kisses,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la.</poem>
- Goldstein, Jack (12 November 2013). 10 Amazing Christmas Carols - Volume 2. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781783333905.
- John Jones (Talhaiarn); Thomas Oliphant; John Thomas (Pencerdd Gwalia) (1862). Welsh melodies: with Welsh and English poetry. ii. London: Addison, Hollier and Lucas. pp. 139–147. OCLC 63015609.
- "Why Do We Say 'Tis the Season?". Grammarly. 22 December 2016.
- "Christmas words: 'tis the season". Superlinguo.com. 15 December 2016.
- Hullah, John (1866). The song book; words and tunes from the best poets and musicians. London: Macmillan. p. 325. OCLC 4340310.
- Campbell, Donald (1862). A treatise on the language, poetry, and music of the Highland clans. Edinburgh: D. R. Collie & Son. pp. 214–215. hdl:2027/umn.31951002045060u.. "Fa la la"s omitted for brevity
- Wickersham, J. P., ed. (1877). The Pennsylvania School Journal. xxvi. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Inquirer Printing and Publishing Company. p. 226 – via hathitrust.org.
- "Fa la la"s omitted for brevity; differences from the original emphasized
- McCaskey, J.P. (1881). Franklin Square Song Collection. New York: Harper and Brothers. p. 120.
- The Kingergarten Magazine vol. vi (September 1891 - June 1892). Kingergarten Publishing Company. 1892. p. 236. hdl:2027/coo.31924088763275.
- Boyd, Jack (1991). Encore!: A Guide to Enjoying Music, p. 31. ISBN 978-0-87484-862-5.
- "Christmas carols – William Studwell's Christmas Carols of the Year series". Chicago Tribune. 6 December 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- "Can y Coach faier - Ethnographic wax cylinders - World and traditional music | British Library - Sounds". sounds.bl.uk. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
- Jones, Edward (1794). Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards. London: and sold at No 122, in Mount Street, near Berkeley Square. p. 159.
- Free scores of Deck the Hall in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free sheet music of "Deck the Halls" for SATB from Cantorion.org
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