Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

Christmas Eve

The text and music of this carol were first printed in Wm. Sandys’s Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, 1833, but the song may well be much older; the ‘legend of my play’ may refer to the song’s use as part of the sort of religious play popular throughout the later Middle Ages.

Neither the dance nor the love metaphor is unusual for medieval hymns, poems, or carols, but nevertheless – perhaps because we are not so familiar today with those conceits or that vast body of work – the piece feels quite modern, a feeling that is only reinforced by the hints (as I read it) that not only Judas but all humankind ‘may come unto the general dance’. It’s worth noting, too, the song’s affirmation that the ‘fleshly substance’ which Christ took of the Blessed Virgin was taken into heaven at His Ascension.

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.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
     So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
     To call my true love to my dance.

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.

Into the desert I was led,
     Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
     To have me break my true love’s dance.

The Jews on me they made great suit,
     And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
     To call my true love to my dance.

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
     His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
     The same is he shall lead the dance.

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
     Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
     Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Then on the cross hanged I was,
     Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
     To call my true love to my dance.

Then down to hell I took my way
     For my true love’s deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
     Up to my true love and the dance.

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
     Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
     May come unto the general dance.