Christmas is less than a month away, which means the slew of hot takes about That One Problematic Holiday Standard should start arriving at any moment. In previous years, I’ve striven to keep above this circular debate, but the sheer number of wrong-headed reads of the subject matter had compelled my to weigh in on the song’s true meaning
Yes, that’s right. Clickbaiters and content farmers be damned. It’s time I finally set folks straight on the true meaning of “Deck the Halls.”
Contrary to some performatively “woke” commentators, the song is not about Christo-colonial hegemony. Nor is the familiar “Fa la la la la” chorus a phonetic code referring to the genocide of indigenous peoples. While it’s easy to see how someone could jump to such an erroneous conclusion, the falsity of these claims implode upon a closer examination of the lyrics.
The “holly” with which the halls are to be decked was deeply associated with pre-Christian pagan traditions and the jolliness is clearly a reference to the orgiastic rites practiced its worshipers. The mention of “gay apparel” is an obvious appeal to reawaken the genderfluidity and non-binary sexuality of these ancient tribes.
“The blazing Yule before us” refers to the sacrificial pyres upon which captured enemies were offered up unto the Green Mother, as the revelers cast down the technological artifice of stringed instruments in favor of their own powerful voices.
Through such ritual cleansing, the new year would be ushered in with promises of rich spoils and unbridled ecstasy as the faithful cavorted heedless of the wind and weather. The “fa la la” parts are not a code but a primordial chant which precedes language itself, the very tongue of the Green Mother and her copious brood. To utter it is to channel the power of the ancient and eternal cycles of birth and death, sowing and reaping, and fecund ambivalence of nature most naked.
In short, the song is only “problematic” for those benighted souls who refuse to hear the pulse of the World-Serpent. May they pray they don’t find themselves caught out when the hounds of the Wild Hunt bellow their bloody hunger.