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God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (also known as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen) is a traditional Christmas carol. The melody is in a minor key and is in common time or cut time. The composer is unknown; it is often attributed as English traditional.
"Like so many early Christmas songs, this carol was written as a direct reaction to the music of the fifteenth century church," writes Ace Collins, in Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. However, in the as-yet earliest known publication of the carol on a circa 1760 broadsheet, it is described as a "new Christmas carol," suggesting its origin is actually in the mid-18th century. It appeared again among "new carols for Christmas" in another 18th-century source, a chapbook believed to be printed between 1780-1800. In 1833 it appeared in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys. The author is unknown.
It is referred to in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, 1843: "...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."
There is some confusion today about the meaning of the first line, which seems archaic to our ears. It is usually given today as "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", with a comma after the word "merry", so does not refer to "merry gentlemen". "Rest" here denotes "keep or make." The claim that "merry" once meant "mighty," and is so used here is not supported by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives sixteen definitions of the word, some going back to the tenth century, all having to do with pleasure or enjoyment. In both of the 18th-century instances, "you" was used instead of "ye," suggesting that the latter may be a modern insertion to make the carol sound more quaintly archaic.
The carol exists in a wide variety of versions, some with differing numbers of verses. No attempt is made here to detail the variants; rather the reader is referred to the Hymns and Carols of Christmas analysis of a nine-verse version. However, for historical comparison, the first verses of the earliest-known versions are given below.
Circa 1760 (from "Three New Christmas Carols," Printed and Sold at the Printing-Office on Bow Church-Yard, London):
God rest on [sic] merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.
Circa 1780-1800 (from "Three new carols for Christmas," Wolverhampton, printed by J. Smart):
[Punctuation reproduced from the original--in this instance there is no comma after "merry."]
God rest you merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas-day;
To save our souls from Satan's power,
Which long time had gone astray:
This brings Tydings of Comfort and Joy.
Allan Sherman used a parody in "Shticks and Stones" in his album My Son, the Folk Singer:
God bless you, Jerry Mandlebaum, may nothing you dismay;
Dis May you had a rotten month, so what is there to say?
Let's hope next May is better and good things will come your way
And you won't have a feeling of dismay next May...
During World War II, British schoolchildren commonly paraphrased the song as "God Rest Ye Jerry Mental Men", with 'Jerry' being a slang term for the German enemy, and 'Mental Men' implying stupidity.
In one of the Mr. Bean's episode (Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean), Mr. Bean conducted Salvation Army Brass Band that sang this song, with some jazz arrangements.
A Christmas episode List of All Creatures Great and Small episodes#Series 2 of All Creatures Great and Small was titled Merry Gentlemen, in ironic reference to Siegfried urging his colleagues to sing the song correctly, with a pause between "Merry" and "Gentlemen".
Angela Chang (Zhāng Shàohán 张韶涵), a Taiwanese pop singer, uses the melody for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in the chorus of her song "[Parable (寓言 Yùyán)".