Nov 29, 2021
2 mins read
Tis the season when lots of people are saying "'Tis the season!" But why?
The simple answer is that it is the season, as in, it is the time of the year that is also known broadly as the holiday season and more narrowly as the Christmas season. The statement "'Tis the season" is simply a way of drawing focus to the festive time of year when it's currently underway.
But of course we don't go around saying "'tis summer" when it's summer, so one can't rightly deny that there's something more to the phrase. And that something more is this: 'tis the season is an allusion to one of the most famous Christmas carols, "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
The song functions culturally as a constant earworm for many people during the month of December. Its tones ring out from radios and store speakers alike, and chances are, if you listen carefully, you will hear someone humming it at any given moment in the days leading up to the year's close. And right there, in the song's best-known lyrics, are the words christmas shirt"
While the song is centuries old, the phrase hasn't been the stuff of cheery headlines and chirpy titles for as long as one might think, given its current (seasonal) ubiquity. In fact, it wasn't really until the 1970s that we started to see it popping up in magazine and newspaper articles.
The song is not new. Its melody, Welsh in origin, is recorded as far back as the 1784 Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards. (It's also associated with the Welsh song "Nos Galan," meaning "New Year's Eve.") The lyrics first appear in the 1881 book The Franklin Square Song Collection, published in New York, with no lyricist credited. The Song Book: Words and Tunes from the Best Poets and Musicians, published in London in 1884, reports that the English lyrics are Thomas Oliphant's translation of Talhaiarn. (Oliphant was a lyricist and long-time member of the Madrigal Society, serving as (in turns) its secretary, vice-president, and president, the first of those positions beginning in 1832; Talhaiarn, who was also known as John Jones, was a Welsh poet and architect.)
What's clearly been lost to modern hummers of "Deck the Halls" is the importance that harps historically played in renditions of the song. Composer and conductor John Rutter explained it to National Public Radio's Bob Edwards on "Morning Edition" in December, 1994