The Tradition of “Christmas Carols”

Parts of this post were originally featured on Austen Authors and brought to us from Rebecca Jamison. I have added to what she shared and offer more of the history of the Christmas Carols than she did in her original post, but have kept some of her YOUTUBE examples. 

 “Christmas Carols” were originally called so because they were a piece of vocal music in what is known as “carol form.” The word “carol” comes to us from the Old French word carole, which means a circular dance accompanied by singers. These were popular dance songs from as early as the 1150s. They became processional songs in the 14th Century and were sung at festivals. Other such “carols” were written specifically to accompany the mystery plays, for example the Coventry Carol, written some time before 1534. [W. J. Phillips, Carols; Their Origin, Music, and Connection with Mystery-Plays (Routledge, 1921, Read Books, 2008), p. 24.]

 800px-WLANL_-_legalizefreedom_-_De_kindermoord_te_Bethlehem.jpg The “Coventry Carol” dates from the 16th Century. It was originally performed in Coventry, England as part of the mystery play entitled, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts what is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, as told in Chapter Two of the Gospel of Matthew. The song takes the form of a lullaby sung by the mothers of the targeted children. The author is unknown; the oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known setting of the melody dates from 1591. [Studwell, W. E. (1995). The Christmas Carol Reader. Haworth Press. pp. 15 ]

Before the Protestant Reformation, carols were performed in Latin by the clergy of the Catholic church. With the Reformation, the carols were brought “back to the people.” Music was translated into the native language of those who spoke it. The Protestant church also made a concerted effort to break the hold the Catholic Church had on what we would term “sacred music.” Composers such as William Bryd composed motet-like  [a mainly vocal musical composition, of highly varied form and style, from the late medieval era to the present] works for Christmas that they termed carols; and folk-carols continued to be sung in rural areas. Nonetheless, some famous carols were written in this period, and they were more strongly revived from the nineteenth century and began to be written and adapted by eminent composers.

“Musically speaking, carol has a very specific definition: a song, characteristically of religious joy, associated with a given season, especially Christmas; in which uniform stanzas, or verses (V), alternate with a refrain, or burden (B), in the pattern B, V1, B, V2 . . . B. A great deal of traditional and popular Christmas music does not actually meet the strict definition of “carol”, and the term Christmas carol has come, in modern times, to colloquially refer to any song, in any of a variety of styles, which references Christmas, the Christmas season, or events in proximity to that season.

Laws restricted festivities at Christmastime, and Christmas carols were not as common in the Regency Era as they are now. However, country people continued to sing carols in their homes and sometimes in churches. In 1822, shortly after Jane Austen’s death, Davies Gilbert, a native of Cornwall, published a collection of carols from his childhood, entitled, Some Ancient Christmas Carols…Formerly Sung in the West of England, which was not too far from where the Austens lived. (You can find the entire volume here.)

The first in the volume is entitled “The Lord at First Did Adam Make.” Wikipedia tells us, “The Lord at first did Adam make, alternatively The Lord at first had Adam made relates the events of Genesis, Chapter 3, relating the evils that have befallen humanity since the first fall and humanity’s subsequent redemption; during Advent, a traditional theme is of the birth of Jesus being the coming of the “Second Adam.”  

“In Davies Gilbert’s preface to his 1822 publication, he writes “The following Carols or Christmas Songs were chanted to the Tunes accompanying them, in Churches on Christmas Day, and in private houses on Christmas Eve, throughout the West of England, up to the latter part of the late century… The Editor is desirous of preserving them in their actual forms, however distorted by false grammar or by obscurities, as specimens of times now passed away, and of religious feelings superseded by others of a different cast…on account of the delight they afforded him in his childhood; when the festivities of Christmas Eve were anticipated by many days of preparation and prolonged through several weeks by repetitions and remembrances.

“Christmas Day, like every other great festival, has prefixed to it in the calendar a Vigil or Fast; and in Catholic countries Mass is still celebrated at midnight after Christmas eve, when austerities cease, and rejoicings of all kinds succeed. Shadows of these customs were, till very lately, preserved in the Protestant West of England. The day of Christmas Eve was passed in an ordinary manner; but at seven or eight o’clock in the evening, cakes were drawn hot from the oven; cyder or beer exhilarated the spirits in every house; and the singing of Carols took the place of Psalms in all the Churches, especially at afternoon service, the whole congregation joining; and at the end it was usual for the Parish Clerk to declare, in a loud voice, his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the Parishioners.

“It was popularised by its inclusion in John Stainer and Henry Ramsden Bramley’s Christmas Carols, New an dOld of 1877, albeit in a Victorianised non-modal form, with a grammatically corrected text. In addition to Gilbert Davies’ collected version, another tune also exists and there are numerous textual variations, including additional verses.” 

Check out these versions on You Tube 

The old English carol “The Lord At First Did Adam Make” as arranged for pipe organ and performed by composer Lewis A. Kocher.

The Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, under the direction of Timothy Byram-Wigfield, perform a bouncy setting of the traditional text ‘The Lord at First Did Adam Make,’ arranged for SATB choir by St Mary’s organist Peter Backhouse.


The choir of St Patrick’s Donaghmore & St Michael’s Castlecaulfield, accompanied by Helen Hall, sing the traditional English carol “The Lord at first did Adam make” live at the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols in St Patrick’s on Sunday 11th December 2011


Here is another of these carols adapted for modern choirs. It is called “A Virgin Most Pure”:


In all, the carols he shared were as follows (click on each title to link to the words to each carol):

  1. The Lord At First Did Adam Make
  2. When God At First Created Man
  3.  A Virgin Most Pure
  4. When Righteous Joseph Wedded Was
  5. Hark, Hark! What News The Angels Bring
  6. Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
  7. God’s Dear Son Without Beginning
  8. Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined


In 1823, Gilbert published a second volume, which included the words to “The First Noel” as well as eleven other carols.



Posted in British history, Christmas, music, tradtions | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Exquisite Excerpt from “Christmas at Pemberley”

JeffersC@PemberleyPreview of Christmas at Pemberley

My “Christmas at Pemberley” has won several awards as an inspirational romance. It is an Austen-inspired piece. The sequel is a cozy mystery, entitled The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. The third book in the series is entitled The Prosecution of the Darcy Cousin. It is also a cozy mystery. Both of those mysteries have been garnered as award-winners. 

I set this Christmas tale two years into the Darcys’ marriage. Elizabeth has been plagued by several miscarriages, and she is haunted with the idea that the “shades of Pemberley had been thus polluted” by her inability to present Darcy an heir. She is struggling with whether she is worthy of her husband’s devotion. Encouraged by her physician to bring some joy into his wife’s life, Darcy has invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend Christmastide at Pemberley. To that effect, to allow time for his guests’ arrival, Darcy has taken Elizabeth with him on a business journey. Upon their return to Pemberley, the Darcys are, unfortunately, unable to outmaneuver a blizzard-type storm, and Darcy and Elizabeth are stranded at a small inn, along with a young couple, whose last name ironically is “Joseph” and whose first child is likely to be born during the night.

Meanwhile, Georgiana attempts desperately to manage the chaos surrounding her brother’s six invited guests (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, Jane, and Bingley) and the eleven unscheduled arrivals, including Mary Bennet’s betrothed Mr. Grange (who Mrs. Bennet invited without asking the Darcys), Lady Catherine (who has not been at Pemberley since that infamous argument with Elizabeth and whose sudden presence will only confirm Elizabeth’s feeling of inadequacy), Anne De Bourgh (who can no longer be her mother’s pawn), Mrs. Jenkinson (who staunchly guards against Anne’s heart being broken), Mr. and Mrs. Collins (who Lady Catherine invited without anyone’s knowledge), Caroline Bingley (who decided to spend the holidays with the Bingleys rather than the Hursts), Mr. Winkler (the local minister who, during the storm, escorts the Collinses to Pemberley, but who is really there to woo Kitty Bennet), Colonel Fitzwilliam (who has returned from the American front), his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Southland (whose cousin once held the living at Rosings Park and who is “fascinated” with the De Bourgh family), and an American, Beaufort Manneville (who the colonel has been ordered to escort to London, but of whom he is suspicious).

This first excerpt brings the last of the “uninvited guests” to Pemberley. Expecting Darcy and Elizabeth, Georgiana is both disappointed and elated that her cousin, Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam, has returned from his duty on the American front.

Georgiana and Kitty raced along the passage and down the main staircase. “We’ll tell Elizabeth that your parents allowed you to return to Pemberley because you were lonely now that Miss Bennet is engaged.”

“Elizabeth will never believe I miss Mary’s company,” Kitty objected.

Georgiana tutted her disagreement. “We simply need for our sister to believe us long enough for her to reach the drawing room to greet your family.”

They waited impatiently for the Darcys’ arrival, each girl fidgeting with her dress. Then Mr. Nathan opened the door, and instead of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, three winter-cloaked gentlemen strode through the opening. Both girls stood in awe of the men—all fine specimens of maleness. “Oh, my,” Kitty swallowed her words. She clawed at Georgiana’s arm.

But Georgiana stood frozen in disbelief. The man in front held her mesmerized. A year—more than a year had passed since she had last seen him, but he remained as before. Solid. Raven haired. Smoky blue eyes. Eyes that appeared to look through her. See me. Georgiana willed herself not to say the words. Not quite as tall as Fitzwilliam, the man’s broad shoulders filled Georgiana’s gaze. “Edward!” she called and launched herself into his waiting arms. In his embrace, Georgiana inhaled him deeply. He smelled of cold and leather and sweat and the spicy cologne he always had worn. “Thank God, you’ve returned to us.”

Her cousin picked her up, clutching Georgiana to his chest, and swung her around in a circle. “My, goodness!” he laughed easily. “What happened to my little Georgie?”

“You’ve been away for a year, Edward,” she protested.“So, I have.” He laughed again as he set her on her feet. “Where’s that rascally brother of yours?” He glanced toward the main stairs.

“Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Darcy are on their way from Northumberland,” she explained.

Edward frowned. “Well, Fitz will be delayed. We barely made it from Liverpool on horseback. Darcy won’t chance it in a carriage.” The colonel gestured to the men waiting behind him. “Do you have rooms available, Cousin? I don’t wish to attempt riding to Matlock.”

Of course.” Georgiana nodded to Mr. Nathan, and the man ducked into a servant’s passageway to do her bidding.

Edward spotted Kitty waiting patiently. “And is this who I believe it to be?” he asked teasingly.

“You remember Mrs. Darcy’s sister Catherine from the wedding, do you not, Edward?”

The colonel bowed to Kitty. “Absolutely. I am pleased to find you at Pemberley, Miss Catherine.”

Kitty curtsied to the group. “I’m certain Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth shall be thrilled for your return, Colonel.” Edward placed Georgiana’s hand on his arm. “Allow we to introduce my traveling companions, my dear. Miss Darcy. Miss Catherine. May I present Lieutenant Roman Southland? The lieutenant is my assistant.”

The officer bowed formally. “Miss Darcy, the colonel has spoken often of his cousin, but his words did not do you justice.” He kissed Georgiana’s outstretched hand. “Thank you for accepting our intrusion upon your hospitality.”

“Pemberley would never turn away the colonel’s associates,” Georgiana responded.

“Edward is family.” She wanted to ask what her cousin had said of her and how often the colonel spoke of her, but instead, Georgiana smiled welcomingly at the man.

“And this gentleman,” the colonel indicated the man not wearing a uniform. “This is Mr. Beauford Manneville. Mr. Manneville is from South Carolina in the Americas, but he’s come to our ‘enemy’ shores to do business with our government and to renew his acquaintance with his distant cousin Lord Shelton.” 

“Welcome to England, Mr. Manneville.” Georgiana curtsied and again extended her hand.

I am sorry your first experience on British shores brings you icy roads.”The colonel laughed softly.

“You do not understand, Georgie. In South Carolina, snow rarely falls. Cold weather doesn’t tarry either. Is that not correct, Manneville?”

The man openly shivered. “I’ve never been so cold, Colonel, and you may leave your levity out of it, sir.” 

Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed stiffly. “As you wish, Manneville.” 

He turned to Georgiana with a touch of lightheartedness. “And from what did we pull you ladies?”

Georgiana suddenly remembered the others waiting in the drawing room for her return. “Oh, Edward,” she gushed. “I am doubly happy to see you, especially in Fitzwilliam’s absence. We’ve a houseful of guests, including Lady Catherine and Anne.”

“Darcy invited our aunt for Christmas?” he asked incredulously.

“No. Her ladyship invited herself, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Lady Catherine visited the earl, but his lordship and the countess have traveled east to welcome the arrival of Lord Lindale’s first child.”

Edward beamed with the news. “Did you hear, Southland? I’m to be an uncle. My brother Rowland’s wife is in her confinement.”

The lieutenant removed his gloves and laid them nearby. “Then it is fortuitous we did not seek Matlock. It appears your family is scattered between here and Lincolnshire, sir.”

“They are. That they are.” He smiled genuinely at Georgiana. “Come, gentlemen. I’ll introduce you to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, my family’s paragon of virtue,” he said teasingly.

Georgiana fell into step beside him as they climbed the stairs. “In addition to her ladyship and Anne, the Bingleys and the Bennets are in residence,” she said softly.

“My, you do have a houseful. I thought you exaggerated, Cousin. How many await me in the drawing room?” he directed Georgiana toward the open door. Kitty and the lieutenant followed, and Mr. Manneville brought up the rear.

“Counting you three, we number nineteen,” she responded. “Fitzwilliam invited the Bennets and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley as a surprise for Mrs. Darcy, but others have sought shelter at Pemberley.” Georgiana leaned against him. “Handling so many distinct personalities has been challenging.”

His finger stroked her arm. “You’ve performed well, Georgie. I’m proud of you.”

They had reached the open door. Taking a deep breath, Georgiana glided into the room. “Look who’s joined us,” she announced. 


An hour later, Georgiana and Kitty climbed the main stairs together. “When had you planned to tell me of Mr. Winkler?” Georgiana teased.

“As I did not know myself until this evening, how could I tell anyone?” Kitty’s eyebrow kicked up. 

Georgiana giggled. “What do you think of the possibilities?”

Kitty clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Delicious. At least, in some ways. Mr. Winkler is a fine-looking man. But then again, so are Mr. Manneville, Lieutenant Southland, and your cousin.”

Georgiana jerked to a stop, her mind rebelling at her friend’s words. “Kitty, you’re welcome to choose among our guests. Look to Mr. Winkler, to Mr. Manneville, or to the lieutenant. Look to any of them except the colonel.” 

Kitty wrapped her hand around Georgiana’s elbow and smiled sweetly. “Exactly as I supposed. So, that’s how the land lies?”

“That’s exactly how it is.”


This second excerpt appears a bit later in the book. Colonel Fitzwilliam is attempting to discover Lady Catherine’s true reasons for coming to Pemberley.

Edward tapped softly on Lady Catherine’s door and a maid admitted him immediately. Her ladyship lounged on a chaise. She held toast in one hand and a teacup in the other. He bowed and then motioned the maid’s departure. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, your ladyship.”

“Why would I not, Edward? You’re a most beloved nephew. You’ve brought honor to the Fitzwilliam name.” She gestured him to a chair.

Edward took the seat, but he remained alert. Years of dealing with his aunt had taught him to never underestimate the woman. Dressed in a dark purple velvet gown, his aunt was a paragon of determination, and many shrank from her renowned inflexibility. She was dark of eye and hair, much darker than her brother, Edward’s father, and the complete opposite of the fair-haired Lady Anne, Darcy’s mother. She could convey her arrogance with a lift of her square chin or a glare along her straight, high-bridged nose. “My choice of military service came as the lesser of two evils, but I’m content with my time. I believe God has placed me in this role to save men from death’s grip. I’m thankful for that position.”

“As you well should be.” Lady Catherine pushed her way to a seated position. “Of what did you wish to speak, Colonel?”

Edward frowned deeply. “I’d like to know your true reason for coming to Pemberley uninvited.”

“You came to Pemberley uninvited,” she accused.

His eyes forcefully demanded that his aunt not fence verbally. “True. However, I’ve never expressed indignation regarding Darcy’s marriage. Neither did I send him language so very abusive, especially of Mrs. Darcy, when he announced his engagement. You’ve not spoken to Darcy or his wife for over two years, and then suddenly you appear on my cousin’s doorstep. I ask myself why, but I cannot decipher your way, Aunt.”

“Possibly, I had no other recourse,” she said slyly.

Edward forced himself to hold her gaze. Years had taught him Lady Catherine used her dominating stare to quell her dissenters. “I might believe you sought Pemberley’s safety if you hadn’t sent word to Mr. Collins before you left Matlock.”

“Georgiana told you that, did she?” Lady Catherine accused.

Edward struggled for an obliging response. “I’m Georgiana’s guardian. It would be natural for her to seek my advice. And I would warn your ladyship not to think that I’ll fall for your diversionary tactics. Georgiana isn’t the issue. Now, let’s revisit your motive for returning to Pemberley.”

Lady Catherine’s mouth tightened in a furious line. “In reality, I have no response.” She waited for his retort, but Edward’s silence demanded a longer explanation. “Matlock left for Lincolnshire. I’d already promised Collins a means to Kent.” She ticked off her reasons on her fingers. “The road conditions deteriorated before I could make other arrangements. I saw my niece in your family home some days prior, and I realized I missed my sister’s offspring.”

Edward’s eyebrow rose in disbelief. “Do you mean to say, Aunt, that you wished for a reconciliation with Darcy?”

“Marriage is forever. I cannot change what’s been done. Although I vehemently disagree with Darcy’s choice, I’ve come to realize my objections are also keeping me from Georgiana. In order for my niece to have a successful Season, Georgiana requires the weight of her connections. Darcy’s position provides Georgiana impetus, but Matlock and Lindale’s names lend credence to her consequence.” His aunt’s words didn’t sit well with Edward, but he couldn’t identify what it was about the image of his cousin’s Society Come Out that bothered him most. It was certainly not Georgiana’s appearance; his cousin’s beauty would awe even the most hardened heart. Possibly, that was it: He could not imagine Georgiana in another man’s embrace. “The De Bourgh connection shall strengthen my niece’s suit.”

“So, for Georgiana’s sake, you’ll swallow your distress regarding Darcy’s marriage?” he said incredulously. 

“Darcy has thrice sent correspondence offering an appeasement. Admittedly, I’ve ignored his olive branch, but Christmastide seemed a time for forgiveness.”

Edward certainly did not believe her reasons, but he knew from experience that his aunt believed what she said. Therefore, Lady Catherine’s frankness penetrated his reserve. “You are an intelligent woman, your ladyship, so I’ll forego the customary warning. You’re aware of Darcy’s nature. My cousin will never tolerate your condemnation of his wife or his guests.” Surprised, he watched as Lady Catherine swallowed her temptation to criticize.

“I am appalled by the people with whom Darcy surrounds himself, but I can tolerate his acquaintances without considering them my intimates.”

“I pray you can, Aunt.” Her sincerity rang of possibilities. “It’s comforting to think you’ve considered Georgiana’s future, but you should also make room for Mrs. Darcy’s role in your life. You must maintain no delusions of Elizabeth ever being replaced in Darcy’s estimation. The man loves his wife, very much in the manner the late Mr. Darcy loved Lady Anne. You must accept it, or Darcy will limit your access to Georgiana.” He hoped his aunt didn’t practice some sort of chicanery. 

Their conversation at an end, Edward prepared to leave her; however, Lady Catherine reached out to stay him.

“Tell me what has transpired with Mrs. Darcy.”

“I don’t understand, Aunt.”

Lady Catherine sighed deeply in exasperation. “As you said, Colonel, I’m far from lacking my wits. I have overheard bits and pieces of information. Why has Mrs. Darcy not given her husband an heir?”

Edward’s suspicions returned. “If you mean to insinuate that Mrs. Darcy hasn’t presented my cousin with his first child because of her low connections, I’ll warn you of the danger of doing so. Darcy will bring his ire to your doorstep, ma’am.”

“That wouldn’t stop me, Edward,” she declared. “I have faced a man’s dudgeon before. Give me the facts, and I shall decide my actions.”

Edward growled. “I will not be a part of your venomous ways, your ladyship. A moment ago, you spoke of harmony. You cannot have it both ways, Aunt.”

“You make the assumption I mean Mrs. Darcy harm. I never said I would openly criticize the chit. I simply said Darcy’s ire wouldn’t deter me. Would you prefer I ask Mrs. Darcy’s witless mother?”

Edward felt his cheeks flush. “Mrs. Darcy hasn’t carried to term previously,” he said through gritted teeth. “But the lady’s with child. Darcy hopes the pleasure of seeing her family for Christmastide will provide Mrs. Darcy comfort. Darcy has surrounded his wife with those who love her.”

“Except for uninvited guests,” she observed.

“That’s more than half of those in attendance,” Edward responded. “Darcy is not likely to be happy with the alteration in his plans.”

“I suppose that means me.”

Dismay tightened Edward’s jaw. “Your presence will truly be a Christmastide surprise, your ladyship.”





Posted in book excerpts, British history, excerpt, holidays, Jane Austen, Ulysses Press | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Closer Look at “One Minute Past Christmas” by George T. Arnold and Regina Jeffers

515ZRGQX5VL._AC_US218_.jpgI came to this story late in the aspect that the nucleus of it was written by my former journalism professor. When I read it, I liked it, but I had the feeling that something was missing. Even so, I kept my mouth shut on the subject for some two years. When he decided to add a new cover and post the story on other seller sites (other than Amazon), I suggested that we work on the story together. That is how it came about. 

When George Arnold originally wrote the story, it involved a grandfather telling his granddaughter the family secret. I changed the story so said granddaughter is now a grandmother herself and sharing that same secret with her granddaughter. We kept all of George’s scenes, making them flashbacks. By doing so we had a three-dimensional story: Layers on layers, but all tied together by this special “secret.” 

The story is a contemporary one, set in West Virginia, as both George and I are West Virginia natives. It is set around his hometown of Beckley, a town set on two interstates, I Interstate 64, going east and west and Interstate 77, going north and south. The family in the story owns a tree farm, one that has been in the family for multiple generations. 

If you are looking for a quick, easy read that will restore your faith in the spirit of Christmas, this is the story for you. It is a novella of some 20,000 words. 

515ZRGQX5VL.jpg  Introducing One Minute Past Christmas 

One Minute Past Christmas is the story of a Greenbrier County, West Virginia, family in which a grandfather and his granddaughter share a special ability — they call it a gift — that enables them to briefly witness each year a miraculous gathering in the sky. What they see begins at precisely one minute past Christmas and fills them with as much relief as it does wonder. But they worry that the “gift” — which they cannot reveal to anyone else—will die with them because it has been passed to no other relative for forty-four years.






Enjoy this excerpt from “One Minute Past Christmas” 

She climbed the steps to the attic a bit more slowly than she did previously. Jessica claimed her sixty-fifth birthday in September, and even though both the Nicholas and Lawrence families traditionally lived well into their late seventies and early eighties, Jessica could not shake the idea that her days were shorter than she hoped.

“Where to look?” she murmured as she pulled the chain to turn on the bare overhead bulb to illuminate the space once used as a drying room, but which now held the family “treasures.”

Hanna joined Jessica to look around in bewilderment.

“I did not realize there were so many boxes.”

“Several lifetimes chronicled here,” Jessica said as she scanned the markings on the side of many of the boxes.

She turned slowly to inspect the many configurations.

“You used to like to play among all the boxes,” Jessica reminded her granddaughter. “We made castles for you to crawl through.”

“Really?” Hanna asked in surprise, and Jessica could not disguise her scowl of disapproval.

“I don’t wish to think upon the values you lost by movin’ away from your family home,” she pronounced in chastisement. “Yes, your father found a viable position, but your family abandoned so much more.”

“Oh, Gram, don’t be going there again. Papa is accounted one of the best mechanics in the area. He has fifteen men working for him.”

“Financial success doesn’t keep a person warm in the same way as one’s memories do,” Jessica countered.

Her granddaughter rolled her eyes in the way of all young people who think they know everything.

Discarding her frustration with what she could not change, Jessica gestured toward several rows of boxes against the far wall.

“You look over there. I’ll take this side. The boxes are labeled, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a peek into each to make sure the contents match the labels.”

“Do you think there are mice in here?” Hanna asked tentatively.

Her granddaughter lifted a box from the top of the stack to investigate the inside.

“You know nothin’ of livin’ in the country,” Jessica remarked as she adjusted her glasses upon her nose so she could read through the bifocals.

“Your grandfather and I have three of the best mousers in the county. Nothing gets past those cats.”

“I thought you kept the cats because they were treasured pets,” Hanna said in distraction before searching through the first box.

Jessica thought, Not likely, but she said, “No. The cats earn their keep.” Like everyone on this farm.

Silence fell between them as they searched. Hanna made quicker work of the task than Jessica. Reminiscing over one of Jeremy’s toy trucks or a favorite picture frame belonging to her mother required time. Recollections required time. Her grandfather Jared Nicholas taught Jessica that time only bent for those God granted a miracle. When Hanna was born, Jessica thought to teach her granddaughter something of the magic, but Jeremy and Molly snatched the child away from Jessica before she could show the girl what made the child one of God’s chosen beings.

“Any luck?” Hanna called out.

“Not yet,” Jessica murmured as she caressed each of the precious items before returning them to the box. 

Hanna stood to scan the stacks.

“Do you recall anything of how the dress was put away?” the girl asked.

Jessica watched Hanna work her way behind what appeared to be an artificial Christmas tree box along the wall.

A smile of recognition claimed Jessica’s lips.

“I recall now,” she said before crossing the small space to spin the box meant for a fake tree around where she could tear away the tape holding it closed.

“There is no need for an artificial tree on a Christmas tree farm,” she declared. “My mother thought it a good joke to store a family heirloom in a hoax of a box.”

Stripping the masking tape away, Jessica placed the box upon the floor and opened the flaps.

“Ah, here it is.”

Jessica lifted the garment bag, which was closed at the bottom with more tape to keep moisture and air from ruining the dress.

“There are mothballs in the box,” she said with a laugh. “We may need to air the dress out.”

Jessica slowly unzipped the bag.

“I imagine my mother covered the hanger before returning the dress to it. My mama, bless her soul, was most particular about the gown. It was the most expensive dress anyone in the family ever owned. I think her cautions and her protestations nearly persuaded your mama not to marry our Jeremy.”

“Will you be as crazy with my wearing it?” Hanna asked half in a tease and half in fear.

“Count on it,” Jessica said smartly as she lifted the dress from the bag.

Beneath the heavy garment carrier was a dry cleaning bag covering the gown and its layers of soft lace.

“Thanks for the warning,” Hanna retorted in what sounded like cynicism.

The girl reached for the bottom of the bag and lifted the plastic to reveal a dress with all the glamour of the 1920s.

“It is like something right out of The Great Gatsby,” Hanna gasped. “It is perfect. We can do the wedding as if it’s high tea in the Hamptons.”

Jessica was more practical.

“We must check all the seams. The lace has yellowed a bit, but not enough to hurt the look of the dress. We may need to find some replacement lace for the sleeves, but matching it shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s a common rose-and-ivy pattern. I do not want you to think of making this a flapper look. My mama and my grandmother would roll over in their graves. Grandma Lily ordered this dress special, based on a picture of her mother’s wedding dress in the old country. Grandpa Jared spent his last penny to please Lily Hardwick. During their first few years of marriage they had nothing to live on but love, but that was enough. Even later, during the Great Depression, they never considered selling the dress or the lace.”

“I promise I’ll treat it properly,” Hanna swore, crossing her heart with her index finger.

“I’ll return the dress to the bag, and we’ll take it downstairs for a closer look. Later, we’ll go into town for lace and whatever else we might need.”

Jessica reached for the box.

“Help me set the empty carton from the way.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Jessica thought it ironic that the prospects of wearing her great-great-grandmother’s dress brought a return of Hanna’s manners.

“What’s that?” Hanna asked as she lifted the box to hear a thud hit the floor a second time.

“Best we find out.”

Jessica draped the bagged dress over the back of a chest of drawers, which should be donated to one of the shelters, before she knelt to dig into the bottom of the tree box.

“Well, I’ll be,” Jessica swore with a chuckle. “I haven’t seen these since before Grandpa Jared passed. I thought them long gone. I wonder who put them in this box.”

“You must have put whatever it is there, Gram,” Hanna said with a bit of impatience, common of young people dealing with the older generation.

Jessica’s frown lines met.

“You are assuming I am suffering from early ‘old timer’s’ disease, but it’s not true. I thought these were long gone.”

She withdrew two composition notebooks with hard covers.

“Love poems written to Grandpa Bob?” Hanna teased with a raised eyebrow.

Jessica clutched the two books to her chest as she stood.

“No, they contain a story my Papaw Jared thought should be kept alive to be shared sometime after our deaths.. He was in his eighties when he asked me to record his tale, a story I shared with him. Although he could read and write, Papaw Jared was not much for his letters. He worried too much about correct spelling and such. His teacher was quite strict, striking his hands many times for his poor penmanship, and I often helped with legal papers and the such as I grew older. Eventually, Papaw told his tale into an old tape recorder, and I transcribed it for him.”

Jessica shot a quick glance at her granddaughter, and hope lodged in Jessica’s heart. She long regretted not knowing for certain whether Hanna could be the answer to a family mystery. With the absence of Jeremy’s family during t0hose years when the girl might show herself, Jessica remained uncertain about how to approach the subject.

“I’d like very much to share the story with you,” she said tentatively. “There’s a bit about you in it.”

Hanna’s nose twitched in what appeared to be disapproval, but she said, “As you’re willing to help me with the dress, it’s the least I can do.”

Jessica knew that was likely the best she would earn from her granddaughter. Since her son’s family took “Reading and Writing and Route 23” to the North, there was a chasm of misconstructions between them.

Posted in Appalachia, Austen Authors, book excerpts, book release, books, Christmas, family, holidays, legends, reading habits, tradtions, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have You Ever Heard of a “Bachelor Tax”?


Conceptual Business Illustration ~

In British history, in 1695, the English parliament passed The Marriage Duty Act or Registration Tax, which imposed a tax on births, marriages, burials, childless widowers, and bachelors over the age of 25. It was primarily used as a revenue raising mechanism for war on France and as a means of ensuring that proper records were kept by an Anglican church official. The tax was found ineffective and abolished by 1706. 

Alan Taylor sparked my interest in this topic with this bit on the British History Georgian Lives Facebook page back on May 14, 2018: “Bachelor taxes have been common in many countries over the years. In late 17th/early 18th Century England women of marriageable age outnumbered men but many gentlemen of the upper and middle classes refused to commit to an expensive business when instead they could spend their time carousing in clubs, sit all day with their friends in coffee houses or even take a mistress or two. Women hit back at this selfish attitude and ‘three score thousand hands with never a cracked maidenhead amongst them” signed a petition deploring the laziness of their opposite sex complaining that: ‘they showed an aversion to the squalling of children..though the sot can sit a whole day at Wills(a coffee house) amidst the…quarrels of no wits’. The government was also keen to support marriage as the resulting children would make up for the appalling mortality rate of babies and youngsters (although a cynic might also add that politicians did not want females to assert their independence!!). Consequently they introduced a tax of 1 shilling a year on bachelors and widowers over 25, but apparently it did not work as it was repealed in 1706.”

The Act was initially implemented for a five-year period, but was extended (by 8 & 9 Wm. III, c. 20) to August 1, 1706. British History Online tells us: “Among Gregory King’s papers there is a printed broadsheet entitled A probable calculation of the annual income to be raised by a tax on marriages, burials, and legacies, with a note in King’s handwriting on the back — ‘Fryth’s Project of the Duty on Marriages, Births and Burials’. And after the Act had been passed, the Treasury received a petition from Richard Firth, claiming that he had (some six years earlier) suggested such taxes to the Duke of Shrewsbury, who had mentioned it to the King, and ‘in this sessions it was accepted by the House of Commons; praying their bounty for his charge and pains’. The Treasury comment was: ‘To be considered if there be any places to be disposed on this fond.’ No other supporting evidence has so far been found. The references in the Journals of the House of Commons are entirely formal and give no indication of the proposers or of the arguments they had in mind. Various amendments to the Bill were made during its passage through the House. One was to exempt from the tax on bachelors fellows and students of Oxford and Cambridge, ‘where, by the Statutes of their Colleges, they are to be displace, if they shall marry’. Another was concerned particularly with recording the deaths (and descent) of persons of quality. [Journals of the House of Commons, vol. 11, pp. 294-5.] But the Bill appears to have had an easy passage; introduced in the Committee on Ways and Means in February 1694/5, it was sent to the Lords on 8 April and their assent was notified on 12 April. Nevertheless, an aura of mystery still surrounds the Act. Three points arise, in particular.

“First, the apparatus required for implementing the Act was quite formidable, involving nothing less than a complete enumeration of the population and a comprehensive system of vital registration. Because some of the taxes fell upon individuals with specified characteristics (childless widowers and bachelors above the age of 25 years) it was necessary to know the names of all such individuals. In addition, the taxes were graduated in accordance with the social status of the individual — and graduated in a complex way. For example, the tax on the burial of a ‘common’ person was 4 shillings. For a Duke the tax was £50 4s for himself, the same for a Duchess, £30 4s for the eldest son or his wife, and £25 4s for a younger son or his wife or for an unmarried daughter. And similar variations applied to the duties on births and marriages and to the annual taxes on bachelors and widowers (Table 1a and b). The Act came into force on 1 May 1695 and on or before that date the Assessors were supposed to furnish the Commissioners with complete lists of the population in their areas, specifying their names and surnames, estates, degrees, titles and qualifications and indicating the taxes and duties to which they were liable, or would be liable if a specified event occurred (that is, a marriage, birth or death). Moreover, these lists were to be brought up to date each year, being corrected in respect of the ‘death change of quality or degree or removal of any person or persons or otherwise’ (Sections XI and XVI). Lodgers and servants were to be included in the enumeration, for they were to be taxed at their place of residence (Section XXIV). A further complication was that in London the basis of the enumeration was the parish, in contrast to the more usual ward basis. This may well have involved substantial problems, especially in the recruitment of a large and separate body of Assessors and Collectors.

“The parish basis was linked to the requirements for vital registration, for in order to prevent evasion it was necessary to improve the reliability and scope of the parochial system. A double check was provided. First, the scope of the parish register was widened to cover everyone married, buried, christened or born in a parish (Section XX), and stillbirths were to be notified (Section XXI). And persons in Holy Orders (and their substitutes) were instructed to keep accurate records of marriages and burials and of all persons ‘christened or born’, under penalty of a fine of £100 (Section XX). Secondly, a special responsibility was placed upon parents in respect of children born to them; it was their duty to notify the Collectors, within five days of the occurrence of the birth of a child, whether live or stillborn — and a stillbirth had to be attested by two or more persons (Section XXI). A similar duty was placed upon Quakers, Roman Catholics and Jews (and any other comparable individuals) to report their marriages to the Collectors within five days (Section LVII). And special arrangements were prescribed for ‘the better preserving the Genealogies Descents and Alliances of the Nobility and Gentry’. Upon the death of any of them (anyone liable to a burial duty of 20 shillings or more), the person responsible for paying the duty had to provide the Collectors with a certificate showing the ‘name surname quality office employment (if any) of such deceased person with the age time of death place of burial marriages and issue and the ages of such issue together with the names sirnames titles and qualities of the parents of such deceased persons. . .’. These certificates were to be sent to the Receiver-General or his deputies for transmission to the College of Arms, which institution was instructed to ‘number schedule and digest the same in alphabetical order in Books to bee provided for that purpose’ and to file the originals for public use (Section L).”

But this was not the only attempts in history to tax bachelors. The first bachelor tax was introduced in 9 AD by emperor Augustus to encourage marriage. It was called the ‘Lex Papia Poppaea’, and apart from taxing bachelors also taxed married people with no children, and those who were celibate. An exception was granted to Vestal Virgins (Ulp. Frag. xvii.1). In 1821, the US state of Missouri applied a $1 tax on all unmarried men. In 1921, the US state of Montana applied a $3 tax on all bachelors. In response to California’s low birth rate, in 1934 they proposed a $25 bachelor tax. The tax was never enacted. Benito Mussolini enacted a bachelor tax in Italy in 1927. The taxes twin objectives were to raise 50 million lira of revenue per year, and increase the Italian population. Mussolini was concerned that there were only 40 million Italians compared to 90 million Germans and 200 million Slavs. By 1936, Italian bachelors paid nearly double the normal income tax rate. To avoid the bachelor tax, the solution was simple, just get married. Italy’s bachelor tax was repealed in 1943. [Tax Fitness]

Even in the U. S. today, singles are taxed higher than say a single person able to file as “Head of Household.” The Head of Household filing status has some important tax advantages over theSingle filing status. If you qualify as Head of Household, you will have a lower tax rate and a higher standard deduction than a Single filer. Also, Heads of Household must have a higher income than Single filers before they owe income tax. While filing as head household gives you a higher standard deduction and usually a lower tax rate, than if you choose to file as single, one needsto qualify first. … To qualify, you must be able to claim a qualifying child or qualifying relative on your tax return.

On Google Books one can find Jane Frecknall-Hughes’s The Theory, Principles and Management of Taxation: An Introduction.  It says, 
Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 12.14.28 PM.png
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512tnr5nuBL.jpg Want to mix a little romance with your history? You might try The Bachelor Tax by Carolyn Davidson. I have not read it, but I am adding it to my Want to Read List on Goodreads. 
Posted in British history, business, history, Living in the UK, marriage, real life tales, war, world history | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roderick Maclean’s Attempt to Kill Queen Victoria

The last of the attempts on Queen Victoria’s life came on March 2, 1882. Unlike the previous attempts, this one was dangerous because by that date, weapons were well beyond the single shot volley stage. Roderick Maclean’s gun held six bullets, and he did fire at Victoria’s passing coach. If Maclean had had time for a second shot before he was beset upon by two Eton school boys, he might have actually hit the queen. 

Ch7b Macleans attack combined.jpg

The incident occurred at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The Queen had departed Buckingham Palace, her carriage passing through Hyde Park on its way to Paddington station to board her special train bound for Windsor. The train arrived at Windsor, but as she left the station to enter her carriage, Maclean, who stood in the station yard, fired upon her. The Social Historian website says several police caught him up and took Maclean to the Windsor police station. Raymond Lamont Brown, in How Fat Was Henry VIII and 101 Questions on Royal History [The History Press, ©2008, 149-150), tells us two Eton school boys accosted Maclean with an umbrella until Superintendent George Hayes of the Windsor Police could take control of the situation. Mr. Brown goes on to tell us that Queen Victoria visited Eton several days later to thank the boys personally before 900 Eton boys in the Quadrangle of the school. 

“At the same time,” the queen wrote later, “there was the sound of what I thought was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about and a man being violently hustled, rushing down the street.” (

“The following telegram was sent from the Queen at Windsor Castle to the Prince of Wales at Marlborough House:

“In case an exaggerated report should reach you, I telegraph to say that, as I drove from the station here a man shot at the carriage, but fortunately hit no one. He was instantly arrested. I am nothing the worse.Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882 

“The prisoner’s name was Roderick Maclean. About 30-years-old, he was 5 feet 7 inches tall and was shabbily dressed. He told the police that he was a clerk out of employment and had been born in Oxford street in London and had only been in Windsor a few days, but it was later determined that he was a native of Ireland.


Kill the Queen!: The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria by Barrie Charles

“The revolver was of German manufacture, with six chambers. Two chambers were loaded with empty cartridges, and two with loaded cartridges. One chamber had been discharged. No trace of a bullet has as yet been found. – from Belfast News-Letter – Friday 03 March 1882

“Maclean was tried on 19 April 1882 at Reading for high treason. Mr. Montague Williams presented overwhelming evidence that the prisoner was a lunatic and Maclean was acquitted on the ground of insanity. He was ordered to be detained during her Majesty’s pleasure.” The Social Historian  [Note: At Her Majesty’s pleasure (sometimes abbreviated to Queen’s pleasure or, when appropriate, at His Majesty’s pleasure or King’s pleasure) is a legal term of art referring to the indeterminate or undetermined length of service of certain appointed officials or the indeterminate sentences of some prisoners. It is based on the concept that all legitimate authority for government comes from the Crown.]


Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

The jury’s deliberation lasted but five minutes. Maclean lived out the remainder of his days at Broadmoor Asylum. He died 9 June 1921. This last attempt on her life prompted the Queen to ask for a change in English law. All of those who attempted to kill Victoria showed signs of mental illness. Maclean, Robert Pate, and Edward Oxford were considered mentally deranged. The others were more of the “lone wolf” nature we see in modern times at mass shootings. Queen Victoria pushed for those accused to be named “guilty, but insane,” rather than “not guilty, but insane,” as had Maclean been found. This led to the Trial of Lunatics Act of 1883. This Act of Parliament permitted the jury to return aa verdict that the defendant was guilty, but insane at the time of the crime. The accused would be kept in custody as a “criminal lunatic.” It was to act as a deterrent to other lunatics, but one must wonder if someone was mentally ill whether a “deterrent” would make much difference. The phrasing was changed to “guilty of the act or omission charged, but insane so as not to be responsible, according to law, for his actions.” This act was eventually replaced by the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act of 1964. 

Other Sources: 

Barrie Charles 

Culture Trip 


Smithsonian Magazine 


Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, England, history, kings and queens, research, royalty, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Begging Letters” in History

We have all received those letters and emails requesting money or asking someone to invest in a scheme. Here is one of the recent ones I received, which is addressed to “Dear Sir.” OOPS!!! Obviously, my gmail account sent the request to the spam folder. 

Dear sir,i m so sorry please dont mind that i trouble you but its my real problem
             My name is Mrs Rehana Kishwar Naaz, I am a Pakistani and live in district of Sialkot. Sir I am very poor. There is no source of income to fulfil the demand of my family. We are eight members of family. My husband is mad. He is absent of mind he cannot do any work as a normal person. I am very worried about my children. 
My children want to get EDUCATION but I cannot afford the expenditure of education. Dear sir you know well that education is the key of success and it is very important for the success of a nation. I wish my children gets education and become a gentle man.
I live in rent house and I am a home maid. I cannot explain how I am tense and worried about my family. I send this request to many institute of Pakistan but they cannot help me because I am a Christen.
Sir you are my last option. I hope you never feel me alone. Sir please give me response as soon as possible .it is the matter of my children education.
I am very thankful to you because you give me your precious time to read my request. I always remember you in my prayers.
dear sir its my request that please help me personally                                                                                                                                                                  thank you
But what of “begging letters” in history? Before the time of the internet? 


26219755_872464219581158_8878255547945133430_n Alan Taylor at the British History Georgian Lives Facebook group recently posted, “Begging letters were often written in the 18th and 19th Century. Sometimes the author was trying his luck with the vulnerable – as some charities today badger the elderly with requests for donations. Other letters were written by the ‘down and out’ to relations, authorities or creditors begging for help. I have a letter of the latter type written by Elizabeth Perry in 1757 from Hanslope in Buckinghamshire to a Francis Walker to whom she owed money. She could not pay the debt and ‘must rely upon your goodness as an excuse’. The tragic tale enfolds ‘my husband has been these two years past…miserably afflicted with the dropsy (a heart condition)’ and so apparently was unable to work. According to records he was a malster (making malt from grain in the brewing industry) but there was also another misfortune for the family as Elizabeth states ‘if it had not been for the loss of our cattle we would not be the humble supplicants now’. This was a double whammy as many artisans of the period would have kept a few animals to supplement their income in hard times. There seemed no way Elizabeth could pay the debt as she had even tried ‘selling all our goods’ but ‘will not near raise the money’ – she was even willing to sell their furniture and other household goods leaving them with nothing, but realised this would not be enough. The only possible end to this was what she dreaded most ‘we must fling ourselves entirely on the parish & become a burden to that place in which we have formerly lived so well’. This outcome was not only a future life of poverty but also a great blow to the pride and reputation of the family! 

“I do not know if Mr Walker was sympathetic to their situation, but online research revealed that Mr Perry died the next year, and in his will, there was a section leaving ‘goods, chattels and furniture’ to Elizabeth after the payment of a Bill of the Reverend Moses Agar and John Downing’. My interpretation of this statement is that these two Samaritans had bought the furniture, etc., in order for Elizabeth to pay off at least some of her debts but allowed her temporarily to keep it. Further the Northampton Mercury for June 1758 states; ‘to be sold – A malting and Hanslope..late belonging to John Perry’. It seems probable that once this was sold, Elizabeth would have been able to pay off the rest of her debts, but I am not sure what happened afterwards although there is a record of the burial of an Elizabeth Perry (pauper) in Hanslope for Dec 1759. The photo shows the church of St James the Great whose vicar, Moses Agar, helped Elizabeth in her distress and possibly buried her as a pauper!”

c102100001.jpgThe State Library of New South Wales has a collection of Begging Letters Received by Banks from Various Persons 1786 – 1808.  Purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales, the letters were later transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910 as part of the Brabourne Collection. Sir Joseph Banks was the recipient of many letters requesting financial support, or his support in obtaining a position or promotion. [You can view the series at this Link: ]


The Jot101 blog shares a begging letter from a debtor in prison. The blog piece goes on to say: “This particular letter is from someone who signs himself M. Eurius Beaubrier, and is addressed to a Henry Clarke. Although preliminary research has revealed nothing of the writer, who may have been French, the handwriting is that of an educated man and the tone is rather pathetic. The letter suggests that both he and Clarke, who is also hard to identify, had dealings before.

“The plea for help comes from the King’s Bench prison in Southwark and is dated 20th July 1827. The tone is pretty desperate:

“‘More than three months have elapsed since first I entered these walls–& God knows what have been my sufferings during that time. I have settled two of the actions against me & I can obtain my discharge on the last for about five pounds. I shall trespass on your friendship once more & for the last time & shall beg of you to lend me the amount which I shall faithfully repay with what you had the kindness to advance me already. I shall be indebted to you for my liberty, which I have learned to appreciate after so long a confinement.
I hope that the country air has been beneficial to you and that you are recovered from your late illness. Mrs Beaubrier writes to say that they have received letters from Sir William Congreve & that he finds himself much better.
I remain,
dear Sir,
your ever grateful,
M. Eurius Beaubrier'”


The May 1850 edition of  Household Words contained an article entitled The Begging-Letter Writer written by Charles Dickens.  Household Words was an English weekly magazine edited by Dickens in the 1850s. It took its name from the line in Shakespeare’s Henry V:  “Familiar in his mouth as household words.” In the article Dickens describes examples of the many begging letters he had received over the years, and the ruses employed by their writers to gain funds from the recipients.

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“Deck the Hall” with Music and History

I recently attended the local Christmas Parade for our rural community. You can keep your Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for there is nothing better than watching young children scrambling for candy thrown by the various floats. Young, shining face, full of joy and potential. Local marching bands. A variety of parade princesses and queens. A few politicians. Church groups. Bikers. And even a couple of refuse removal trucks, cleaned and not smelling of trash. LOL! 

While my family and I waited for the parade to begin, I entertained my grandchildren by showing them some of the goodies at “Backstage,” a shop that carries unique vintage costumes and accessories (to purchase or rent on consignment), situated in a building built in 1875. My grandson was most impressed with the weight of “REAL” swords and guns (actually stage props, but to a 7-year-old they looked REAL). My granddaughter loved the bonnets and masks and the crowns.




During that time, Judy Craycraft, the shop owner and former principal violinist spoke of theatre and music, etc. One of things we spoke of was the Christmas carols we were likely to hear from the bands as they marched along. When we came to “Deck the Halls,” our knowledge of the song combined. We spoke over each other: my comments dwelling on the Welsh history of the Christmas classic and hers of the musicality of the piece. Later, when the high school band playing the song came by, we discovered we sang some of the phrases differently. Doing so hatched an idea for this post. 

250px-John_Parry,_harpist.jpg “Deck the Hall” comes to us via a Welsh melody from the 16th Century. The melody is taken from “Nos Galan,” a traditional New Year’s Eve carol, published in 1794, although it is likely much older. [Goldstein, Jack (12 Nov 2013). 10 Amazing Christmas Carols, Volume 2.] John Parry (known as Parri Ddall, Rhiwabon (or, in English, Blind Parry of Ruabon) was  the first to record the Welsh air in a musical manuscript of the 1700s. Parry, who is said to have inspired Thomas Gray’s 1757 poem “The Bard,” dictated the air to his fellow-compiler, Evan Williams, his manuscript Antient British Music, published in 1741). In it was an unnamed ‘aria’ which is now called “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly.” Later, the song was published and named “Nos Galan.” It was found in Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1784) by Edward Jones. The melody is Welsh, but the lyrics come to us via the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant, dating the piece to 1862. 

Poet John Ceiriog Hughes wrote his own lyrics to the tune. A middle verse was added by various singers, the lines changing from artist to artist. Reportedly, the melody was used by Mozart in a duet for violin and piano, “Sonata No. 18.” [“Christmas carols — William Studwell’s Christmas Carols of the Year series –”The Chicago Tribune. Tribune Newspapers. 2010.] Later, Haydn used it in the song “New Year’s Night.”

“Originally, carols were dances and not songs. The accompanying tune would have been used as a setting for any verses of appropriate metre. Singers would compete with each other, verse for verse—known as canu penillion dull y De (“singing verses in the southern style”). Consequently, tunes originally used to accompany carols became separated from the original dances, but were still referred to as “carols”.

“The Welsh and English lyrics found in the earliest publication of the “Nos Galan” melody are as follows:


The first known publication of the melody “Nos Galan”, from “Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards” (1794) by Edward Jones ~ Public Domain ~


Wikipedia tells us, “In the original 1862 publication, Oliphant’s English lyrics were published alongside Talhaiarn’s Welsh lyrics. Although some early sources state that Oliphant’s words were a translationof Talhaiarn’s Welsh original,[6] this is not the case in any strict or literal sense. The first verse in Welsh, together with a literal English translation taken from Campbell’s Treatise on the language, poetry, and music of the Highland Clans (1862), is given for comparison:

So, which is your version of “Deck the Hall” or is it “Deck the Halls”? 

Thomas Oliphant’s version first appeared in Welsh Melodies With Welsh and English Poetry (Volume 2), which was published in 1862. As was mentioned above, Thomas Oliphant, a Scottish musician wrote the lyrics. These lyrics first appeared in a four volume set, authored by John Thomas, and entitled Welsh Melodies. The entry contained Oliphant’s English words, along side of the Welsh words, recorded by John Jones (Talhaiarn). The repeated “fa la la la la” is likely a left over of medieval ballads. Those lyrics are as follows: 

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!

See the flowing bowl 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!
While I sing of beauty’s 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!
Laughing, quaffing all together, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!


The English words of Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly are not a translation. This is Thomas Oliphant’s original publication of the words of the Christmas carol. Source Original publication: “Welsh Melodies with Welsh and English Poetry”, volume 2. Published by Addison, Hollier and Lucas, 210 Regent Street, London, England.


This version’s lyrics appeared in the December 1877 issue of the Pennsylvania School Journal. In this version, there is no longer any reference to drinking, runs as follows:

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la!
Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la la la la!
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la la la!

See the blazing yule before us, Fa la la la la la la la!
Strike the harp and join the chorus, Fa la la la la la la la!

Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la!
While I tell of Yuletide treasure, Fa la la la la la la la!

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la!
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, Fa la la la la la la la!
Sing we joyous all together! Fa la la la la la la la!
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la la la la!

Deck_the_hall ~ Public Domain ~ Pennsylvania School Journal, 1877

Posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, history, medieval, music, Scotland, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments