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Chances are good that Merry Christmas doesn't mean what you think it does, and the mixup starts with one of the most popular carols of jolly old England, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

The everyday folk tune, written in the sixteenth century was meant to be sung by commoners, as a counter to the high brow music - that the church celebrated at the time.  

The opening line, is where the confusion begins. In, sixteenth century common vernacular, understood the word “Merry” - to mean “mighty, brave, or great...” not joyful and happy as we hear it today. Ole King Cole was a merry old soul then - translates as - Ole King Cole was a great, mighty & brave old soul. 

And the word “Rest” didn't mean relax as it does today, it was used to mean "keep," or "make." To the people of Elizabethan England, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen meant - may god keep you mighty gentlemen.



"Ding Dong Merrily on High," began life in a French book of dance instruction. 
The English lyric was written by George Woodward, a composer with an interest in campanology - the study of church bell ringing, and was first published in a 1924 compendium called "The Cambridge Carol Book." 

The melody of Ding Dong Merrily On High was composed by Thoinot Arbeau , an anagram, for a French cleric named Jehan Tabourot .  

And the original title of the song was Branle de L'official.   A branle being a type of French circle dance.

It was effectively the Hokey Pokey of it's day. The translated instructions tell the reader to: 

Take the left foot out, then... 

Take a little leap,

Put the right foot in, 

And then bring the feet together again.

Ding Dong Merrily On High - that's what it's all about.



"Deck the Halls," with its "boughs of holly, and fa la a la la's," is one of the best loved carols of all time. But, the song never mentions Christmas.

"Deck the Hall" - singular - as Thomas Oliphant's original 1862 lyric went, is based on a much older Welsh tune called "Nos Galan," which means New Years Eve.

The opening line isn't "Deck the Hall with boughs of holly," it's the considerably more bawdy, "O how soft my fair one's bosom." 

The English lyric was sanitized during prohibition as well. The line "Don we now our gay apparel," was originally "Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel." 

Between the circle dancing, wassailing, and licentiousness, an Old English Christmas appears to have been quite the party.

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