Christmas Vocabulary – Deck the halls

This Christmas phrase is easy  to understand. When you say, “It’s time to deck the halls,” you mean putting out holiday decorations.

But did you realize the phrase can be traced back to a 16th century Welsh drinking melody?

In 1862 Thomas Oliphant, a Scottish musician, penned the English-language lyrics from that Welsh tune into the famaliar yuletide carol we sing today.

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!
Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Troul the ancient Christmas carol,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

The first line explains why decking the halls means to decorate or adorn. In the 18th and 19th century homes  were literally adorned with holly branches and other greenery like ivy and mistletoe at Christmastime because it was festive and readily available.

Many also believed the boughs of holly brought good luck and, from the time of Celtic Christians, Christmas holly’s prickly leaves were a reminder of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his Crucifixion. The red berries symbolize His blood giving a religious emphasis to the Christmas decorating.

Today, glass ornaments, lights, blow-up yard art, and other adornments join with fresh greenery when we deck our halls.

But, I’m guessing, at one time of another while we’re decorating we hum, or sing, the words to Deck the Halls.


2 Comments on “Christmas Vocabulary – Deck the halls

  1. Don’t you love it?

    However, this year we are scaling back. Way back. Our only decorations are those easily taken down and restored without many trips to the attic. That’s okay. Maybe it’s good. Decking the halls isn’t about the fun of decorations. It’s about preparing for the new year of living with Christ as our center of life. It’s good to be reminded of what is important.

  2. Very interesting. I’ll have to add this to the Christmas Carol History lesson I teach my middle and upper school students. I’m not sure they find it as fascinating but since I am the teacher, I get to decide what they need to learn 🙂

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