A Caroling: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
This is probably my favorite Christmas carol of them all, speaking, as it does, so succinctly to the meaning of the Christmas season:
God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
Although its origins are unclear, the first publication we have is from 1760, when it was called a “new Christmas carol.” When you read and listen to the words, there is certainly a suggestion of Victorian-era propriety in the language. This idea isn’t hurt, either, by the fact that Dickens quotes it in A Christmas Carol (Early in the book, a Christmas caroler drops by Scrooge’s place and starts in on this song. Scrooge chases him away with a ruler.). There is something about the immediacy of “upon this day” which encourages a sense of peace, I think. The focus is on not just the history of Christmas, but the very day, the moment of it, as well. I can’t help thinking about something a college friend used to say: “Thank God for each day. He doesn’t have to keep ’em coming.” From a Dickensian point of view, this is no more true than on Christmas Day. Jesus’ birth changed all of history. It’s worth spending the day in a dual spirit of reflection and celebration. Humanity was in big trouble before Christ came, but now, we can exclaim like Scrooge “I haven’t missed it! The spirits have done it all in one night.” God saved our poor souls all in one night, and that is a grace worth resting in.
Have a listen to this medley by the Bare Naked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan. It includes God Rest Ye with other songs, but I love the bounce and energy in the song. It’s a nice compliment to the minor key.