We wish you a Merry Christmas: There's a dark side to the popular song

Cheryl E Preston

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The popular Christmas song came from violence and threats

"We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" is one of the most sung holiday songs to this date. Arthur Warrell has been accredited for the popularity of the song going worldwide because he arranged the tune for his group "Bristol University Madrigal Singers in 1935. They performed it during a concert on December 6, of that same year. History, however, tells us there is a dark history behind this well-known carol.

During the 1600s the reason for the season seemed forgotten and Christmas celebrations got out so out of hand that the Puritan state of Massachusetts (not the entire US) banned any observance of this most wonderful time of year in 1659. In that year the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted a law called Penalty for Keeping Christmas because the way people were observing the holiday was considered a “great dishonor of God and offense of others.

Anyone who celebrated the holiday by not going to work, who was “feasting, or observing December 25 in any manner was told they "shall pay for every such offense five shillings.” which would be about $48 in today's currency. Galay music reveals that We wish you Merry Christmas was the first-holiday song that was not religious in nature and also brought some humor to the season. Until that time Christian carols based on scripture were being sung that told of the birth of Christ.

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Massachusetts bans Christmas celebrationsPhoto byHistory channel screenshot

History tells the tale

The History Chanel details how European Christians wanted to stop pagans from what they considered debauchery and lasciviousness associated with Winter Solstice observances and place the focus on the birth of Jesus. In 350 AD Pope Julius, I officially declared December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ but this is not the day He was actually born. Jewish history suggests it would have been anywhere from the springtime to late summer when shepherds were in the fields and lambs were being born.

We wish you a Merry Christmas is believed to have derived from the 1600s when it was performed by the poor for the rich and famous in the hopes they would give money or food to those who were singing. Wikipedia gives details of the dark days of the December holiday and two versions of We wish you a Merry Christmas that may have been sung during the 1600s.

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Sixteenth century Christmas carolersPhoto byHistory channel screenshot

The proof is in the lyrics

Rowdy servants were said to have demanded money and alcoholic beverages from their masters during the holiday season and were called mummers and Christmas caroling as we know it today is said to have come from this practice. The first version of the song was:

"We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy new year;
A pocket full of money,
And a cellar full of beer"

The second version is as follows:

"I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year,
A pantry full of good roast beef,
And barrels full of beer"

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Figgy puddingPhoto bys screenshot

The figgy pudding factor

It has also been said that the lines about figgy pudding were threats that the singers would not leave a home until they received what they had been singing for.


"Oh bring us some figgy pudding
Oh bring us some figgy pudding
Oh bring us some figgy pudding
And bring it right here

We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some
We won't go until we get some
So bring it right here"

How ironic the attempt to stop the pagan revelry evolved into much of the same being done in the name of the Christ-centered holiday more than a century later. Even so, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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I write, about breaking news, and current events. I wrote a newspaper column from 1997 to 2007 and have written for various online platforms since 2012 including Yahoo Contributor Network, Hubpages, and Vocal Media.

Roanoke, VA
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