God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

God Rest You Merry Gentlemen is a Christmas Carol inspired by the story in Luke 2:8-20. It tells of shepherds standing out in a field, watching their flock of sheep at night. They are met with the presence of an angel, and are terribly frightened. The angel tells them not to be afraid, for Jesus is born that night in a manger in Bethlehem.

The lyrics of the carol express the message given by an angel to shepherds. 'God rest you merry' means, 'God keep you merry'. This follows with the shepherds traveling to Bethlehem and greeting Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The carol ends wishing that all who know Christ will enjoy many more Christmases with their friends and family.

Text for the carol first appears in The Roxburghe Collection. This four volume set contains 1500 ballads, most of which were collected within England in the seventeenth century. The volume containing God Rest You Merry Gentlemen may have been published around the year 1700.

The carol can be sung in two different tunes, and therefore is given in two versions. The first version comes from Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern by William Sandys in 1833, and gives the best known text. Sandys put together his book of carols with the wish of reviving the Christmas spirit and the tradition of singing Christmas carols. Edward Rimbault, another collector of music, states that the tune printed by William Sandys comes from Cornwall.

The second version comes from what was commonly sung in the streets of London later in the 19th century. A broadside containing the carol was printed by a publishing company named J&C Evans, and sold all over Europe.

The carol we currently sing takes its text from William Sandys, while the tune is taken from what was sung on the streets of London. It can be sung to the London tune by singing 'O tidings of comfort and joy' twice in the refrain.

God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

God rest you Merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior.
Was born on Christmas day.
To save our souls from Satan's power,
Which long had gone astray,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

From God that is our Father,
The blessed Angels came,
Unto some certain Shepherds,
With tidings of the same,
That there was born in Bethlehem,
The Son of God by name,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

Go, fear not, said God's Angels,
Let nothing you affright,
For there is born in Bethlehem,
Of a pure Virgin bright,
One able to advance you,
And throw down Satan quite,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

The Shepherds at those tidings,
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a feeding,
In tempestuous storms of wind,
And straight they came to Bethlehem,
The son of God to find,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

Now when they came to Bethlehem,
Where our sweet Jesus lay,
They found him in a manger,
Where oxen fed on hay;
The blessed Virgin kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

With sudden joy and gladness,
The Shepherds were beguil'd.
To see the babe of Israel,
Before his mother mild,
Oh then with joy and cheerfulness,
Rejoice each mother's child,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
Like we true loving brethren,
Each other to embrace,
For the merry time of Christmas,
Is drawing on apace,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.

God bless the ruler of this house;
Send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas.
May he live to see again,
Among his friends and kindred,
That live both far and near,
And God send you a happy new year.

for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11

Originally published
Researched and Written by: Thomas Acreman

  Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern by
  The Oxford book of carols by
  Christmastide, its history, festivities, and carols by

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