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The History of the hymn “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
Like so many early Christmas songs, this carol was written as a direct reaction to the music of the fifteenth century church. Details of the piece are included in Ace Collins, in his book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.
It was the most popular of the early carols, sung for centuries before being published in Britain in 1833, when it appeared in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys, though its incipit was in William Hone’s List of Christmas carols now annually printed in Ancient Mysteries Described, 1823.
It is referred to in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, 1843:
At the first sound of — God bless ye merry, gentlemen! May nothing you dismay! — Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
This carol also is featured in the second movement of the Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson.
The carol exists in a wide variety of versions, some with differing numbers of verses.
In the UK, the de facto baseline reference version is that adopted by Carols for Choirs, (1961)