Where does ’tis the season come from?
Deck the Halls, or, as it was originally known, Deck the Hall, is a Christmas carol with English lyrics written by Thomas Oliphant in 1862. The original song was a Welsh New Year’s carol called Nos Galan, with a tune that may date back to the 16th century. The English lyrics contain the line “’tis the season to be jolly,” and it’s from this that the phrase originates.
’Tis has fallen out of use in modern times for the most part, but it’s a contraction of it is (much like it’s) that was in use from at least the 15th century.
Before Deck the Halls, there are examples of writers in the 19th century using ’tis the season on its own both in relation to Christmas and to other seasons. For instance, an 1839 New Year’s ode published in the Gentleman’s Magazine opened: “Hurrah! hurrah! ‘Tis the season of mirth, / The time of goodwill and peace on earth.”
’Tis the season proliferated as a festive reference to Christmas and to the carol, and it began to reemerge in popular culture starting in the 1960s. As it has become more common, it’s evolved beyond the strict association with Christmas. ’Tis the season can now be applied to any season or time of year, from “‘tis the season for spring cleaning” to “‘tis the season for pumpkin spice lattes.”
Who uses ’tis the season?
There are a number of Christmas albums titled ‘Tis The Season, from such diverse artists as Olivia Newton-John, Jimmy Buffett, Jordan Smith, and Wendy Moten.
Although the word ’tis formally takes an apostrophe, it’s often dropped, so that the phrase is written as tis the season. This is particularly common in informal, online settings, where punctuation tends to disappear anyway.
A more unusual variation is tis’, perhaps due to the influence of other contractions, where the apostrophe is liable to be later in the word. The archaic nature of ’tis may help contribute to the variability of spelling, since people are less likely to have seen it written down.
’Tis the season can be used at the front of a statement, as in “’Tis the season to panic about getting Easter presents on time.” It can also simply be used on its own as an interjection to comment on a situation, as in “My eyes have been watery from allergies all day. ’Tis the season.” ‘Tis the season is also frequently used, and some would say overused, as an advertising and marketing catchphrase.
“i kept my window open ALL NIGHT and i never got cold. tis the season”
@spockai Twitter (May 4, 2017)
“Tis the season for itchy dogs, and we have the home remedy for you!”
Dr. Karen Becker Facebook (April 24, 2016)
“Prom. ‘Tis the season for dreamy promposals, fashion statements, and new pairs of shoes that often require an awful lot of breaking in.”
Marquita Harris, “We Can't Stop Watching This Prom Entrance Fail,” Refinery 29 (April 29, 2017)