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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.
Another nauseating attempt at pseudo-romantic merrymaking would be the Vermont Teddy Bear.
The merrymaking started on three stages spread across the city, each featuring live music and interviews with the cast, including Jim
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.
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.
1 : happy and lively activity : merrymaking <There were sounds of gaiety outside, musical instruments, and noisy tongues, and laughter.
The merrymaking will start as early as the park's opening at 4pm on Wednesday.
WHILE most of us spend Christmas Day with family and friends, indulging in rich dinners and a few tipples, and then slumping ponderously in front of the television, there are some who sacrifice the annual merrymaking ritual to go to work.
For many people, Christmastime is a festive, frenzied blur of shopping, baking and merrymaking.
I'm just the opposite; I enjoy listening to the music with visions of knights, castles, hunts, and merrymaking dancing in my head.
New single Merrymaking At My Place was also well received, as was the excellent Vegas, which is sure to be a future hit.
Patrick's Day revelers beware: The Eugene Police Department will double the number of officers on the road tonight to keep a lid on the merrymaking.