“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”, also known as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, is an English traditional Christmas carol. The melody is in the minor mode. It was published by William B. Sandys in 1833, although the author is unknown.
Like so many early Christmas songs, the carol was written as a direct reaction to the church music of the 15th century. However, in the earliest known publication of the carol, on a c. 1760 broadsheet, it is described as a “new Christmas carol”, suggesting its origin is actually in the mid-18th century. It appeared again among “new carols for Christmas” in another 18th century source, a chapbook believed to be printed between 1780 and 1800.
It is referred to in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, 1843: “…at the first sound of — ‘God bless you, 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.”
The carol exists in a wide variety of versions, some with differing numbers of verses.
Circa 1760 (from “Three New Christmas Carols,” Printed and Sold at the Printing-Office on Bow Church-Yard, London):
God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.
Circa 1780-1800 (from “Three new carols for Christmas,” Wolverhampton, printed by J. Smart):
God rest you merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas-day;
To save our souls from Satan’s power,
Which long time had gone astray:
This brings Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
Here is Le’Andria Johnson singing the beautiful song from her Christmas album “Christmas Best”: