Christmas songs explained - Deck the Halls
'Tis the season to be jolly
This is a very old melody, and like most Christmas songs, the lyrics were written in the 1800s. The English language has changed a bit in 150 years, and the words of this song are a mix of words from the 1800s and words trying to sound even older. Like most of the Christmas songs that we are familiar with, the idea was to make a brand new lyric sound ancient and traditional. Nowadays we call that doing a design that is *retro*.
First of all, a bough is just an old-fashioned word for a branch. We don't see much holly anymore, but it used to be a very popular Christmas decoration. Using the term *deck* to describe decorating (yes, the words are related to each other) has gone out of style, and describing the interior space of a house as *halls* really isn't used much anymore.
And the fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la just shows that even in the 1800s, sometimes lyricists couldn't think of any words. The *fa*, by the way, is an attempt to make the lyrics sound even older than it was, similar to the use of the word *ye* in many Christmas songs. People in the 1800s didn't say *ye* any more than they said *thee* or *thou* - that's 17th century stuff!
Don we now our gay apparel
Another expression that isn't used much anymore is to *don apparel*, which just means putting on clothing. Department stores use the term apparel, but you don't see it anywhere else. And before the late 20th century, *gay* just meant festive and cheerful.
Troll the ancient yuletide carol
Trolling didn't have anything to do with evil spirits or mischief. It just mean moving along in a gentle way in an attempt to catch something. The term still exists in modern use with fishing, where a lure is moved along slowly. Yuletide is a 15th century winter celebration. And, of course, a carol is a song. So, as you sing this song, you are hoping to catch a little bit of that ancient spirit of Christmas.
Posted by Brad Hall