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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 ?
Kolkata/Bengaluru (West Bengal/Karnataka) [India], Dec 25 ( ANI ): It's that time of the year again, the season to be jolly, as it's popularly known, as the nation merrily welcomes Christmas today.
When asked about the business, Merrily, founder and owner, emphasized the amazing story behind the beginnings of Village Yoga, saying "The studio was a gift - the young couple who had put their love into creating this beautiful space realized that it was too overwhelming.
As the drama begins, Merrily, inset, (Anna Maxwell Martin) is wandering around a creepy house with a few other vicars and the no-nonsense Rev Huw Owen (David Threlfall).
As the drama begins, Merrily (Anna Maxwell Martin) is wandering around a creepy house with a few other vicars and the no-nonsense Rev Huw Owen (David Threlfall).
Based on the books by Phil Rickman, Merrily has become one of the few women priests working as an exorcist and, if it sounds like a dramatic device, it's not.
Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily, life is but a dream.
I enjoyed reading your "Backstory" about Glen Echo Park in Maryland ["Merrily Go 'Round"]!
Then I was horrified to see that she was merrily driving along talking on her mobile.
MOLD: Clwyd Theatr Cymru (0845 330 3565), Merrily We Roll Along.
Clwyd Theatr Cymru are staging Merrily We Roll Along which tells the story of Frank, Charley and Mary who met at college in the late 1950s, becoming best friends.
"Merrily We Roll Along" rolls triumphantly back to town as the opening attraction of the 2012 season at City Center Encores!

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