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The Red and the Mondegreen


Legend:   Misheard lyrics to Christmas songs are immortalized as 'mondegreens.'

LEGEND

Origins:   The term 'mondegreen' — representing a series of words resulting from the mishearing of a statement or song lyric — is generally attributed to Sylvia Wright, who is credited with coining the neologism in a 1954 Harper's column. Ms. Wright was chagrined to discover that for many years she had misunderstood the last line of the first stanza in the Scottish folk ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray," which reads:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh! Where ha'e ye been:
They ha'e slain the Earl of Murray,
And they laid him on the Green.


Ms. Wright misheard this stanza as:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh! Where ha'e ye been:
They ha'e slain the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.


From the disappearance of Sylvia Wright's tragic heroine, Lady Mondegreen, came the term for describing unconventional interpretations or understandings of oral repetition, usually in the form of song lyrics.

Christmas carols and other holiday songs, rife as they are with seldom-heard words and phrasings and clever wordplay, are fertile fields for the sowing of
mondegreens — especially when children, with their limited vocabularies, are involved.

(Mondegreens are based upon a genuine misunderstanding of lyrics, a distinctly different phenomenon than the deliberate creation of parodic lyrics such as "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg," or "We three kings of Orient are; tried to smoke a rubber cigar.")

Over the years we've collected a variety of Christmas mondegreens from books, Internet postings, and reader e-mail. The table displayed below presents mangled Christmas lyrics (with the mondegreened lines bolded and italicized) in the left-hand column, while the correct lyrics are shown in the right-hand column.

Please feel free to submit additional contributions to us via e-mail.

Angels We Have Heard on High

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Born in a Chelsea stable
Born in a Chelsea stable



Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Away in a Manger

The cattle are lonely
(or) The catalog glowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes


The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

Carol of the Bells

Gaily they ring
white people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here.


Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here.

The Christmas Song

Jeff's nuts roasting on an open fire,
Check for snipping at your nose;
You'll tide carols being sung by the fire,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey, handsome Mr. Soul
Help to make the season bright;
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose;
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright;
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

Deck the Halls

Deck the halls with Buddy 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 day of peril,
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 Yulbie Forest,
Fa la la la la la, la la la.
Strike the heart, enjoy the florist,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Deck the halls with bells of jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.


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.

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.

The First Noel

The first Noel,
the angels did say,
Was to frighten poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;

In fields where they
lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night
that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Barney's the King of Israel.


The first Noel,
the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;

In fields where they
lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night
that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the Snowman
Was a jolly happy soul
With a canecob pipe and a bloody nose
(or) With a corn cob pipe and a butt and a nose
And two eyes made out of coal

Frosty the Snowman
Is a ferret elf I say:
He was made of snow but the children know
How he came to life one day

Frosty the Snowman
Knew the snow was hot that day,
So he said, "Let's run and have some fun
before I melt away."

Down to the village
With a broom stuck in his head,
Runnin' here and there all around the square,
Sayin' "Catch me if you can."


Frosty the Snowman
Was a jolly happy soul
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal

Frosty the Snowman
Is a fairy tale they say:
He was made of snow but the children know
How he came to life one day

Frosty the Snowman
Knew the sun was hot that day,
So he said, "Let's run and have some fun
before I melt away."

Down to the village
With a broomstick in his hand,
Runnin' here and there all around the square,
Sayin' "Catch me if you can."

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Get dressed ye married gentlemen,
Let nothing through this May.

Remember, Christ our saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.


God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember, Christ our saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring wine and gruel.


Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel.

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Grandma got run over by a reindeer walkin' home from outhouse Christmas eve.
You can say there's no such thing as Santa.
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

I've warned all my friends and neighbours:
"Better watch out for yourselves."
They should never give a license
to a man who drives a sleigh and plays the bells.


Grandma got run over by a reindeer walkin' home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there's no such thing as Santa.
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

I've warned all my friends and neighbours:
"Better watch out for yourselves."
They should never give a license
to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the New York King.
Peace on earth and then he smiles;
God and sitters reconciled.
(or) Goddamn sinners reckon so.
(or) God and sinners, wrecked and styled.

Joyful oily nations, rise;
Join the triumph of disguise.
With the jelly toast proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild;
God has seen her raccoon's eyes.

Mild He lays His glory by
Born Emmanuel, more may die


Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.




Joyful all ye nations, rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

Have a holly jolly Christmas,
It's the best time of the year.
Well, I don't know if there'll be snow,
But have a cup of cheese.

Ho, ho, the mistletoe
Hung where you can see;
Somebody waits for you;
Is there one for me?


Have a holly jolly Christmas,
It's the best time of the year.
Well, I don't know if there'll be snow,
But have a cup of cheer.

Ho, ho, the mistletoe
Hung where you can see;
Somebody waits for you;
Kiss her once for me

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night.
She didn't see me creep
down the stairs to have a peep;
She thought that I was locked
up in my bedroom fast asleep.


I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night.
She didn't see me creep
down the stairs to have a peep;
She thought that I was tucked
up in my bedroom fast asleep.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their hearts of gold.


It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold.

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh;
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.

Bells on Bob's tail ring,
(or) Bells are 'bout to ring,
(or) Bells on cocktail ring,
Making spareribs bright;
What fun it is to write and sing
A slaying song to knives.

Jingle Bells, jingle Bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride
With one horse, soap, and sleigh.
(or) In a one horse sloping slave.


Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh;
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.

Bells on bobtail ring,
Making spirits bright;
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

Joy to the World

Joy to the world!
The Lord has gum.
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart
Prepare him room;
And evident nature sing,
And hemminate your sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world!
The savior reigns.
Let men their sins enjoy.
While fields and flood
Rocks, hills, and plains;
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy


Joy to the world!
The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart
Prepare him room;
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world!
The savior reigns.
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and flood
Rocks, hills, and plains;
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

O Come All Ye Faithful

O come holly faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.


O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely eggs I'll hear
Until the Son of God appear.


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

O Holy Night

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the white men from orioles' land.


Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us ignore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing on eggs all stationed.
O sing, all ye citizens
Of heaven above


O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exaltation.
O sing, all ye citizens
Of heaven above

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Olive, the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names;
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guard my slave tonight?"

Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with gleam:
(or) As they shouted out with fleas:
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
You'll go down and hear a story!
(or) You'll go down in his story!


All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names;
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee:

"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
You'll go down in history!
You'll go down in history!"

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list
Of chicken and rice;
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Little toy dolls
that doodoo and poo;
elephants, boats,
and kiddie cars too.

The kids in girl and boy land
Will have a jubilee.
They're going to build a toilet town,
All around the Christmas tree.


Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list,
And checkin' it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Little toy dolls
that cuddle and coo;
elephants, boats,
and kiddie cars too.

The kids in girl and boy land
Will have a jubilee.
They're going to build a toyland town,
All around the Christmas tree.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night;
All is calm, all is bright.
Round John Virgin, margarine child;
Holey and lint, sewed tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peas;
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Stabbing fight, hold the knife;
Ship her cake, at the site.

Glories stream from heaven afar,
Tavernly host sing Alleluia:
Christ the Savior is born horned;
Christ the Savior is bored.

Silent night, holy night;
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiate meat from your holy place,
With the dawn of redeeming grace:
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.


Silent night, holy night;
All is calm, all is bright.
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child;
Holy infant, so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night, holy night;
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia:
Christ the Savior is born;
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night;
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant, beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace:
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Sleigh Ride

Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing,
Ring-ting tingle-ing too.
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.

Outside the snow is falling,
And friends are calling, "You fool!"
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.

Let's take the low sea forest
And sing a chorus or two.
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.


Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing,
Ring-ting tingle-ing too.
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.

Outside the snow is falling,
And friends are calling, "You hoo!"
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.

Let's take the road before us
And sing a chorus or two.
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My tulip sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lawyers leaving,
Nine lazy Hansons,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven warts on women,
Six geezers laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a cartridge in a pantry.
(or) And a partrie Jinnapear tree.
(or) And a paltry tin-affair tree.


On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

We Three Kings

We three kings of porridge and tar,
(or) We free kings of Oregon are,
Burying gifts we traverse afar.
(or) Bearing gifts, we travel so far.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Born a king on Bethlehem's plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again.
King forever, seasoned leather,
Over us all to reign.

Marv is mighty bitter, perfumed;
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Born a king on Bethlehem's plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again.
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night

While shepherds washed their socks at night
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around.

While shepherds walked their fox by night
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
White Christmas

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the wands I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen,
To hear slave elves in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card arrived.
May your days be merry in brine,
And may all your Christmases be white.


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen,
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.

Winter Wonderland

In the meadow we can build a snowman;
Then pretend that he is sparse and brown.
(or) Then pretend that he is parched and brown.
He'll say, "Are you merry?"
We'll say, "No, man!
But you can do the job when you're in town!"

Later on we'll count spiders
As we drink by the fire
To face, I'm afraid,
(or) To change and appraise,
The plans that we made
Walkin' in a winter wonderland!

In the meadow we can build a snowman;
Then pretend that he is partly brown.
He'll say, "Are you married?"
We'll say, "No, man!
But you can do the job when you're in town!"

Later on milk and spiders
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we made
Walkin' in a winter wonderland!

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he's a circus clown.
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the alligators knock him down.


In the meadow we can build a snowman;
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say, "Are you married?"
We'll say, "No, man!
But you can do the job when you're in town!"

Later on we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we made
Walkin' in a winter wonderland!

In the meadow we can build a snowman;
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say, "Are you married?"
We'll say, "No, man!
But you can do the job when you're in town!"

Later on we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we made
Walkin' in a winter wonderland!

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he's a circus clown.
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kiddies knock him down.



Last updated:   14 December 2013

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Sources:

    Edwards, Gavin.   Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly.
    New York: HarperCollins, 1998.   ISBN 0-06-095293-8.

    Lederer, Richard.   Have a Punny Christmas.
    New York: Warner Books, 2000.   ISBN 0-7595-6050-1.