The song “Deck the Halls” is a traditional Christmas carol whose melody dates back to 16th century Wales. It was originally called “Nos Galan,” a Welsh term meaning “New Year celebration, or gift,” and it initially was actually a New Year’s carol, rather than a Christmas carol.
It remained primarily a Welsh tune until the year 1862 when Scottish lyricist and musician Thomas Oliphant penned the English lyrics that are familiar to us today–although he retained the repeated “fa la la la la” lyrics that were a part of the original Welsh.
Oliphant was something of an interesting guy. He was a member of the English Madrigal Society, and is said to have written a large number of Italian madrigals especially. A madrigal is a type of lyrical poem or polyphonic vocal piece that was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Oliphant served at one point as president of the society. According to Wikipedia:
Oliphant was primarily a lyricist, writing his own new words or his own interpretations to his “translations” of existing songs in foreign languages. Oliphant took part in the Great Handel festival in Westminster Abbey in the chorus as the bass vocalist. In 1855, he was asked by the directors of the Philharmonic Society to translate portions of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin which were then performed by the Philharmonic Society’s (now known as the Royal Philharmonic Society) orchestra and chorus at the Hanover Square Rooms and conducted by Wagner himself. Oliphant wrote the words for the chorale for the wedding of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1863. The music was composed by Prince Albert and when Queen Victoria heard the recital, she was said to have been much affected by the chorale as Prince Albert had died over a year before in 1861. Oliphant was described as the “Poet of the Court”, as he wrote lyrics for Royal events and other important occasions.
“Deck the Halls” in Italian
“Deck the Halls” in a capella
“Deck the Halls” from The College of St. Scholastica
(Located in Duluth, Minnesota, the college is named after the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox saint, Scholastica, who was born in Italy in the late 5th century and who founded the women’s branch of Benedictine monasticism. She was the sister of Benedict of Nursia, who authored “The Rule of Saint Benedict,” a book of Christian precepts that later was adopted by the religious order that bears his name.)