God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ is one of the oldest Christmas carols there is, and one of the most popular.

“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” (or “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”) is an English traditional Christmas carol, and is also known as “Tidings of Comfort and Joy”. An early version of this carol is found in an anonymous manuscript, dating from the 1650s.

The earliest known printed edition of the carol is in a broadsheet dated c. 1760. A precisely datable reference to the carol is found in the November 1764 edition of the Monthly Review[1]. Mid-18th century it was recorded by James Nares[2] in a hand-written manuscript under the title “The old Christmas Carol”.

An article in the March 1824 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine[3] complains that, in London, no Christmas carols are heard “excepting some croaking ballad-singer bawling out ‘God rest you, merry gentlemen’, or a like doggerel”. The carol is referred to in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. It is also quoted in George Eliot’s 1861 novel Silas Marner.

“God rest you merry” means ‘may God grant you peace and happiness’. Merry is often misinterpreted as an adjective, modifying gentleman. The transitive use of the verb rest in a sense “to keep, cause to continue, to remain” is typical of 16th- to 17th-century language.

In the first line, some variants give the pronoun ye instead of you, in a pseudo-archaism. In fact, ye would never have been correct, because ye is a subjective (nominative) pronoun only, never an objective (accusative) pronoun.


A clue to a proper reading of the line is that the phrases ‘rest ye merry’
and ‘God rest ye merry’ were commonplace expressions
of goodwill in Medieval England. ‘Rest ye merry’ was used as early as 1300,
in Old English, in the popular romantic tale Floris and Blauncheflur.

When the character Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol heard this cheerful carol, he grabbed a ruler and made the singer flee in terror.

Former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and his wife Candice Night, who form Blackmore’s Night, performed this with a Renaissance-style arrangement on the 2017 reissue of their 2006 album Winter Carols.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this infant lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth efface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

  1. The Monthly Review (1749–1845) was an English periodical founded by Ralph Griffiths, a Nonconformist bookseller. The first periodical in England to offer reviews, it featured the novelist and poet Oliver Goldsmith as an early contributor. Griffiths himself, and likely his wife Isabella Griffiths, contributed review articles to the periodical. Later contributors included Dr. Charles Burney, John Cleland, Theophilus Cibber, James Grainger, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Elizabeth Moody, and Tobias Smollett—who would go on to establish the Monthly’s competitor in 1756, The Critical Review. William Kenrick, the “superlative scoundrel”, was editor from 1759 to 1766. [Back]
  2. James Nares (April 19, 1715 – February 10, 1783) was an English composer of mostly sacred vocal works, though he also composed for the harpsichord and organ. [Back]
  3. The Gentleman’s Magazine was a monthly magazine founded in London, England, by Edward Cave in January 1731. It ran uninterrupted for almost 200 years, until 1922. It was the first to use the term magazine (from the French magazine, meaning “storehouse”) for a periodical. Samuel Johnson’s first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman’s Magazine. [Back]

Further Reading


The Phrase Finder
Classic FM

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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