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Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day; The Carols of Christmas


Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.

If you’ve been following my carol series, this one is a little more obscure. “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”, like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” is a medieval carol. This one was probably written a little later, because as “Merry Gentlemen” was written in response to the lifeless liturgical chants, “Tomorrow..” was most likely written as part of a medieval play to be performed in the church. It’s cool to see this shift because although scripture was deemed important, it was completely inaccessible to those who didn’t speak Latin, own a bible, and know how to read. So, everyone but the priests.

At some point, the clergy realized that their congregations needed to not just attend church, but actually understand what was happening there. And thus began the medieval plays. When I taught theatre, I called them the three M’s. There were Miracle plays, Mystery plays, and Morality plays. Mystery plays were not Whodunnit’s like the name suggests, but about specific episodes of scripture (creation, plagues, resurrection, etc). Miracle plays were about the lives of the Saints, and Morality plays taught…you guessed it morality. As a teacher, I love the structure of these plays:

Here’s what happened (Mystery)

Here are people who got it right (Miracle)

Here’s what to do with it (Morality)

But what does all this have to do with a Christmas carol? The lyrics of "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" suggest it being a part of a Mystery play because it talks about the “legend of my play” and the term "dancing day" is from Medieval times. In this case, the speaker in the carol is Christ Himself. And he’s calling us to dance with Him because we are His bride. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.

Here are the words. Don’t read them as lyrics to a song. Read them as a love letter from Jesus to you, his beloved.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;

I would my true love did so chance

To see the legend of my play,

To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,

Of her I took fleshly substance

Thus was I knit to man's nature

To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was

So very poor, this was my chance

Between an ox and a silly poor ass

To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.

Then afterwards baptized I was;

The Holy Ghost on me did glance,

My Father’s voice heard I from above,

To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.

I encountered this song at a time when I needed it most. I was a freshman in college. It was coming on Christmas and I just wanted to be home. My last final wasn’t until a couple of days before Christmas and the thought of not being in my home with my family in the weeks leading up to Christmas…well it still makes me cry to think of it. I know this wasn't a hardship. Other people had real hardships. I was just homesick. But this speaks volumes about how blessed I was and just how magical Christmas was in my home.

I was in the University Chorale which had some traditions of their own at Christmas. One was singing a certain carol at the Immaculate Conception Mass during Christmas on Campus. What a huge honor! I had no idea what any of that meant at the time. All I knew was that we were singing a song almost everyone else already knew and I was just trying to keep up. But when I sang these words, all those fears and my sadness melted away because Jesus Himself was calling me his true love. I knew in that moment, this would aways be a favorite carol of mine even though not many people knew about it. And partly because not many people knew about it.

There are two popular melodies for this carol -one arranged by John Rutter and one by John Gardner. I know this will make me sound like a huge dork,(too late) but in choir, there was nothing like being passed a new piece of music with one of these names on the cover. We sang the Gardner arrangement, but take a minute to listen to both of them. They are beautiful in their own ways and the lyrics are the same.

John Gardner

John Rutter

We talk a lot about the birth of Jesus at Christmas. He was a helpless baby, born in a strange place and with some strange things happening around him. But the reason we still talk about this baby today is because his dancing day was coming. It was the day he looked at us across the crowded dance floor and took us into his arms and said,

“My Father’s voice heard I from above,

To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love.”

I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.

Merry Christmas,

Shannon