Behind the Christmas Carol: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The hymn God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is over 500 years.  The song we sing today has a completely different meaning then at the time it originated.

The hymn is one of the oldest known Christmas carols.

Over the centuries, times and meanings have changed.  The song we sing today does not have the same meaning that it did to the English peasants in the 15th Century.

In the 15th Century church, songs of joy and happiness were not allowed.  The songs were somber and usually written in Latin.

The people counteracted this by singing Christmas songs in the streets.  The nightwatchmen are said to sing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen as they walked the streets of London.

In the Middle Ages the word “merry” meant great and mighty.  The word “rest” meant keep or make at this time.  So, the nightmen were really saying, “God make you mighty, gentlemen.”

Think back through history, and how England was known as “Merry old England” at the time this song originated.

Soldiers were told to eat and drink because tomorrow they would conquer hence the term “eat, drink and be merry”.

Ace Collins wrote ““God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’s” lyrics reveal that the song’s unknown writer knew the story of Jesus’ birth well. He included the high points of the gospel throughout the carol’s verses. The writer also fully understood the power of Christ and what His arrival meant to all who embraced it.”

While the song is believed to originate back to the 15th Century, evidence is lacking.  The first broadsheet of the song was published around 1760 in London.

Charles Dickens referenced the song in his classic A Christmas Carol.  “… at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”

Wikipedia says the song is a Roud Folk Song and part of the Roxburghe Collection.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen has been a traditional Christmas carol since the mid-18th Century.  This may be due to Queen Victoria’s love for carols, which found their way into the Anglican Church and soon spread to America and Europe.  The upbeat melody also helped to keep the popularity of the song alive.

So, God keep you mighty, Gentlemen!

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen was written during the 15th Century #Christmashymns #hymnstory Share on X

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