This is not the first drinking song to appear in our hymnal. And I’ll wager it won’t be the last. But it may be the most familiar, even if the drinking words were changed.
You see, this is an old Welsh song that was originally sung to bring in the New Year:
The best pleasure on new year’s eve,
Is house and fire and a pleasant family,
A pure heart and brown ale,
A gentle song and the voice of the harp
And before we donned our gay apparel, we would “Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel.” There are also lines about seeing “the flowing bowl before us” and “laughing, quaffing all together.”
The version below, the one many of us probably know best, first appeared in 1862 and were written by Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant. These lyrics celebrate the coming of the season without speaking explicitly about the theological meanings, making it actually a joyful song to sing in Advent, as we prepare for Christmas Day:
Deck the hall with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la la la la, la la la.
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, fa la la la la, la la la la.
See the blazing Yule before us, fa la la la la, la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus, fa la la la la, la la la la.
Follow me in merry measure, fa la la la la la, la la la.
While I tell of Yuletide treasure, fa la la la la, la la la la.
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.
Sing we joyous all together, fa la la la la la, la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather, fa la la la la, la la la la.
One more language note, about “troll” – this is what the Online Etymology Dictionary has to say:
late 14c., “to go about, stroll,” later (early 15c.) “roll from side to side, trundle,” probably from Old French troller, a hunting term, “wander, to go in quest of game without purpose” (Modern French trôler), from a Germanic source (compare Old High German trollen “to walk with short steps”), from Proto-Germanic *truzlanan.
Sense of “sing in a full, rolling voice” (first attested 1570s) and that of “fish with a moving line” (c. 1600) both are extended technical uses from the general sense of “roll, trundle,” the former from “sing in the manner of a catch or round,” the latter perhaps confused with trail or trawl.
So there you have it; we will sing the Yuletide carol in a full, rolling voice… like you would if you were drunk and singing drinking songs.
I rather love the inclusion of this in here – I wasn’t sure at first, but knowing its roots and the joyfulness with which we all still sing it today, its a perfect secular nod to the holy day.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.