God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is one of the oldest Christmas carols still popular. It was most likely first published in 1760 but it was centuries old by this time. The lyrics, sung in a minor key, center around the joy experienced at the news of Christ’s birth – Jesus came “to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy!”
The first line is unusual to modern English speakers because it’s not a phrase we typically use. Different sources give different meanings for the first phrase of the song. However, most commonly, the word “rest” is translated as “keep” and the word “merry” is translated as “harmony” or “in harmony.” With this understanding, “God Rest Ye Merry” probably really means something like “May God keep you in peace” or “God keep you in harmony.”
The Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen even made an appearance in Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol when Scrooge terrifies carolers with his foul temper:
“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.”
It’s interesting that Scrooge attacks the carolers as they are singing the very lyrics he most needs to hear – “Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.” As the song states, regardless of social class or distinction, the love and power that exists in the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is far greater than anything that could possibly disturb or dismay us. If only Scrooge would have heeded the words to the song, he could have saved himself from a very disturbing evening.
Click here to hear God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Rend Collective
*Image courtesy of S&B Vonlanthan and Unsplash
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