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In contemporary English the word "merry" means "jolly," "cheerful," "lively," or "happy." Few people realize, however, that it once meant something slightly different. At the time the English coined the phrase "Merry Christmas," merry meant "pleasant," "delightful," or "joyful." Thus, at that time, the well-known phrase "merry England" did not mean "jolly England," but rather "pleasant" or "delightful" England. When used to describe a holiday, the word "merry" signaled that it was a time of festivity or rejoicing.

In greeting one another with the phrase "Merry Christmas," the English were wishing each other a festive and joyful holiday. The sixteenth-century English Christmas carol, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," offers another example of this usage. Contemporary English speakers often interpret the title of this song to mean something like "God Rest You, Jolly Gentlemen." In fact, the comma separating "merry" from "gentlemen" in the original phrase tells us that in this context "merry" does not function as an adjective describing the gentlemen in question. In the sixteenth century, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" meant "God Rest You Joyfully, Gentlemen" or, as contemporary English speakers might be more likely to say, "God Keep You Joyous, Gentlemen" (for the phrase "Merry Christmas" in differentlanguages, see Merry Christmas and Happy New Year).

Further Reading

Weiser, Francis X. The Christmas Book. 1952. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1990.
References in periodicals archive ?
Philippines : The Philippines braced Sunday for its annual orgy of New Year's Eve merrymaking which leaves hundreds of people maimed by firecrackers or shot by bullets fired in the air by armed revellers.
The kids will have to finish the term at Laurence Jackson School before they jet off for a week or two, but that doesn't mean the merrymaking is on hold.
Victory day should see celebrations and merrymaking.
Pollensa was built a few miles inland to avoid pirate attacks, the most famous of which, the Fiesta de los Moros y Cristianos, the battle between the Moors and Christians, is re-enacted every year on August 2 with parades, concerts and general merrymaking leading up to a battle when streets heave with mock guns, swords and cutlasses.
At the Powel Crosley mansion, Charles and Catherine Dickens welcome guests for Christmas merrymaking with Dickens at the Crosley.
MULTAN, August 09, 2009 (Balochistan Times): Multanites have geared up their preparations for Independence Day some four days ahead of the merrymaking event they are looking forward to renew their pledge to defend the country against all odds and work for its development.
Sporting designer stubble and a trendy new haircut, he never let the pace up from then on, whether he was pogoing around during Merrymaking at my Place, or lashing away at his on-stage synth towers.
Four decades of stilt-walking, bongo-playing, mosquito-swatting, face-painting, half-naked merrymaking is on the verge of commemoration.
The entire Rimini Riviera will be open for 24 hours of festivity and merrymaking as the 110km of breathtaking coastline becomes an enormous stage where everyone has a part to play and everyone is invited.
The merrymaking will start as early as the park's opening at 4pm on Wednesday.
Swiss Days celebrates Midway's roots, combining food, crafts, music and merrymaking on Aug.
Bonde Do Role -- Brazil's "funk carioca" merrymaking