“Deck The Halls” – Translated

A few weeks ago I was looking through a Christmas music book with a young child. This child – we’ll call her Mary (that’s not her real name so don’t worry) – turned the page and found the old Christmas Carol Deck The Halls. Anxious to show me her reading skills, Mary started reading the lyrics to the song. She didn’t get very far before she stopped and asked, “Miss Sarah, what’s a bough? And what’s Yuletide? And merry measure?” So Mary and I had a vocabulary and history lesson that afternoon. We “translated” the lyrics and once she understood the words, Mary liked the song and learned to play it on the piano!

Christmas hollyToday I thought it would be fun to look at a little history of this traditional carol and “translate” some of the slightly archaic words.

A Really Old Song

Deck the Halls is one of those carols that no one seems to know exactly when it was written, but we know it’s old – some folks believe it was around in the 1500’s. (That’s during Queen Elizabeth I’s era and before the Pilgrims came to America). There is some evidence suggesting the lyrics originated in Wales (U.K.) and over the years were translated from Welsh to English.

The music too has it’s mysteries. It likely originated as a dance tune, but the composer W.A. Mozart used the music in one of his duets for violin and piano.

The song gained publication fame during the 1860’s in England and became popular in America in the next decade. It’s been a classic every since!

The Traditional English Lyrics With “Translation”

(Lyrics are in Red, Bold, Italics  – my interpreting is in green.)

Deck the hall with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Hall = home; central area of a castle   Bough – branch

Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Jolly = happy

Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la la la la la.

“Time to put on happy Christmas clothes”

Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Troll = repetitive singing   Yuletide = an old term for the Christmas season

See the blazing yule before us, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Yule = a big log which was supposed to burn for the 12 days of Christmas

Strike the harp and join the chorus, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Strike the harp = don’t hit it! Rather play a big chord…and then start singing.

16th Century Dancing; image in public domain in the U.S. because of dateFollow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Merry measure = dancing

While I tell of Yuletide treasure, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Yuletide = see my note above.

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses! Fa la la la la la la la la.

“Welcome the new year!” Lads = boys   Lasses = girls

Sing we joyous all together, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Headless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la la la la la.

“Never mind the cold outside – there’s a big, happy party inside.”

Enjoy The Music

I hope your “hall” is ready for the “Yuletide season” and that you will have a “jolly” week before Christmas!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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One Response to “Deck The Halls” – Translated

  1. Jim Hodges says:

    Love this song. Thanks for the history lesson!

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