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Deck the Halls

Updated on December 12, 2014

Deck the Halls is a popular Christmas song but do you know what the words mean?

Everyone knows this song. It is played in the Malls and is used in commercials. It's in many movies and TV shows. Kids love to sing it and it's one of my favorites.

However, when I asked my child what the words meant, he was unable to tell me. That's when I decided to break it down for him.

Photo credit:

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Fa la la la la la la la la

My child's answers to the first verse.

Deck - what sits on the wheels of a skateboard - where you barbecue - what you walk on when your on a boat.

Halls - where you walk down to go to other rooms

Boughs - Blank stare

Holly - a family friend

How does that make sense to a child belting out words he doesn't get?

Deck - Decorate

Halls - Formerly a "great room" where guest gathered

Boughs - Branches with leaves and berries

Holly - This was harder, it really doesn't grow here in the desert but there are lots of silk plants to show. Holly is an evergreen tree that can be pruned into a hedge or allowed to grow to 50 feet. It has red berries.

Now it means, Decorate your home with branches from the Holly tree.

Manheim Steamroller

Manheim Steamroller


This is a favorite. I have it on vinyl and CD. I know it's the holiday season when my husband puts it on the turntable. (For the youngsters, a turntable is a record player. If you don't know what that is, look it up on your phone). :)


Tis the Season to be Jolly

Fa la la la la la la la la

Ok, I say to my child, let's try the next line.

Tis - sort of gets this, does it mean is? Yep, that's right

Season - like winter or spring? Yep, very good.

Jolly - sort of blank stare and the "you mean like happy"" My reply, " Christmas time is also considered a season"

OK, we know what this verse means.

Christmas is a time to be happy.

Charming scene from "A Christmas Story"

Don we now our gay apparel

Fa la la la la la la la la

This verse is fraught with danger.

(No editorial comment here other than to say that the word gay means happy or cheerful. It is a shame that the word has been appropriated by other groups and has been turned into a taunt. Enough said. I happen to like the word gay to say that someone is cheerful.)

Ok, so I ask the boy what "don" means. He has no clue.

I don't ask what the word gay means because I am just skipping the whole other dialog and will tell him what it means in the song.

He doesn't know what apparel is. This is fun because I can tell him that he is wearing it and he still doesn't know that it is clothing.

Don - an old word for putting on something.

Gay - cheerful

Apparel - clothing

What does this line mean? Dress up in your party clothes.

The Monkey's - Deck the Halls - Sorry, couldn't resist

Troll the ancient yuletide carols

Fa la la la la la la la la

Troll - The boy doesn't know the Internet term for troll yet. He's only 9 and he can learn it later. Yes, I have some trolls left over from way back when. (see example in the picture)

What I found interesting is that there is a debate about the word troll. Some say it is really "toll". I think that after some research that it is troll. Regardless of where you stand on it it means a song sung in a round (over and over in counterpoint like Row,row, row your boat) or to sing to sing in a full voice merrily. Toll means the ringing of bells and many carols were rung through church bells.

Ancient - he understands this word. I'm his grandmother raising him and he thinks I'm ancient, especially when he sees the trolls from my childhood.

Yuletide carols - Ancient yuletide carols may refer to the song that were sung by pagans. Christmas was set as the same time of the Pagans Yuletide. Many of the words and traditions were adapted for Christmas, like the yule log.

What does this mean now? Sing the old carols loudly and joyfully.

Psych - What could be better?

Lyrics to Deck the Halls

I've done the first verse , it's up to you to explain the rest of the lyrics to your child

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
'Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Don we now our gay apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

See the blazing Yule before us.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Follow me in merry measure.
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
While I tell of Yule-tide treasure.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Fast away the old year passes.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Hail the new year, lads and lasses
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Sing we joyous, all together.
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Heedless of the wind and weather.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Feedback is welcomed

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    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 6 years ago

      An unusual take on a carol, it was great to see you go over the meaning of each verse with your son!

      As I am writing this the tune of Deck the Halls is floating out of the living room - my 1 year old has a Christmas sound book and although there are 5 songs, the one she loves to play over and over is this one!

    • SuperZoe LM profile image

      SuperZoe LM 6 years ago

      It's so nice that you went over the meaning of the song with your son and shared his thoughts on the meaning with us! I just love that little troll!

    • profile image

      grannysage 6 years ago

      You can certainly get a lot of conversation out of one verse. It is sad yet humorous that children do not know what those words mean. Yet I think most adults do not know either. Thanks for sharing your conversation with your grandson. It was delightful. And it is true, most of the Christmas traditions are adapted from pagans.

    • profile image

      boutiqueshops 6 years ago

      How wonderful to have these memories to show your son later! Adorable, although he may not think so by then. LOL Lovely! Thanks for sharing this beautiful moment with the rest of us. He'll be able to read Dickens in high school!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      My, how we take these old songs for granted. Now you should try Auld Lang Syne on him. By the time he gets to college, he won't even be phased by reading Chaucer.

      I enjoyed this.