“My Dancing Day”


"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." The story of the life of Jesus is repeated, with each stage being a reason why the true love should come to the dance


It would appear that this song is known only from Sandys (I've heard of broadside copies, but have yet to see one that predates Sandys). It is thus arguable that it is not a folk song, and should not be included.

There are, however, strong hints that it is much earlier than Sandys; the _Oxford Book of Carols_ argues that it is from the sixteenth century or earlier, and Bradley in the _Penguin Book of Carols_ think it medieval. The latter claim rests on pretty slender evidence (Bradley argues that the third line about seeing "the legend of my play" implies an origin in one of the mystery play cycles, and cites a claim from the _New Oxford Book of Carols_ that it is resembles elements of Cornish play cycles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries).

The evidence that it is old is, however, very strong -- the language sounds as if it predates Sandys, and the mention of the Harrowing of Hell hints at a date prior to the Anglican reformation. The _Oxford Book of Carols_ suggests that the original was secular (which seems not unlikely -- probably a dance song). This might well explain the mix of popular legend and learned theology ("Then I was born of a virgin pure, Of her I took fleshly substance" reminds me, at least, of the Christological controversies of the early church.)

The theme of calling one's love to a dance is probably from the secular source, but there are four New Testament uses of the Greek word _orcheomai_, "to dance": Matt. 11:17, 14:16, Mark 6:22, Luke 7:32. Two of these uses (Matt 14:6, Mark 6:22) refer to the daughter of Herodias dancing before Herod Antipas and clearly would not be the source for this imagery. But the other two refer to children or musicians calling out their friends/playmates to dance, making it a very relevant image for evangelism. (The English word "to dance" is also used in Luke 15:25, in the partying at the return of the prodigal son. this is somewhat less relevant, since the Greek word is _choros_, the song/dance of the Greek chorus -- but a reader of the English Bible would not know that).

The individual verses are more biblical; they also have strong ties to the creeds. In the references below, "NC" refers to the Nicene Creed (created by the church in stages starting at the Council of Nicaea in 325, though the final version had to await the Council of Chalcedon over a century later) while "AC" is the "Apostle's Creed" (which is certainly not Apostolic; it seems to come mostly from the Roman church, starting with Marcellus and Rufinus, and reached its final form in the eighth century; see Henry Bettenson, _Documents of the Christian Church_, second edition, Oxford, 1963.

"Then I was born of a virgin pure": AC; Matthew 1:18-25. (Luke also says that Mary was a virgin at her marriage, but does not explicitly state the idea of the virgin birth. Of course, the phrase "virgin pure" is sometimes taken to refer to the Immaculate Conception, and the notion that Mary herself was born of some sort of parthenogenesis, but there is no Biblical hint of this)

"Of her I took fleshly substance": John 1:14; NC; cf. Gal. 4:4

"In a manger laid and wrapped I was": Luke 2:7, 12, 16. There is no scriptural warrant for saying an ox and ass were present.

"Then afterward baptized I was, The Holy Ghost on me did glance": Matt. 3:16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:22-23, John 1:29-34

"Into the desert I was led... The devil bad me make stones my bread": Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13

"The Jews... loved darkness rather than light": not an explicit quotation, but compare John 12:44-46, Matt 6:23; the treatment of Jesus as light is common.

"For thirty pence Judas me sold": According to Matthew 26:15, 27:3-9, Judas sold Jesus for "thirty of silver" (so literally, hence modern renderings "thirty pieces of silver"). That would be a lot more than thirty pence in today's money, but early silver pennies might have a value roughly comparable to the price paid to Judas. This is perhaps more evidence that the song is early.

"Mark whom I kiss": Matt 26:48-49, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48.

"Before Pilate the Jews me brought": AC; NC; Matt. 27:1-2, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1, John 18:28fff. It was in fact the high priests, not the Jewish population as a whole, who handed Jesus over (so all four Gospels, though John uses the word "Jews" in fairly close proximity to the description of Jesus being handed over to the Romans)

"Where Barabbas had deliverance": Matt 27:16-26, Mark 15;7-15, Luke 23:18, John 18:40

"Then on a cross hanged I was": Too many references to list; see e.g. Mark 15:25; AC; NC

"Where a spear to my side did glance": John 19:34

"There issued forth both water and blood": John 19:34. (The word used is perhaps best translated "lance-head"; sometimes used as a medical instrument)

"Then down to Hell I took my way": The Harrowing of Hell is non-Biblical. There is, in fact, no real Biblical explanation of what Jesus was doing during the roughly 36 hours between his death and resurrection. It is, however, mentioned in the Catholic texts of AC (the Methodists and some other denominations suppress this)

"And rose again on the third day": Again too many references to list; cf. e.g. Mark 16:6; AC; NC

"Then up to Heaven I did ascend": Acts 1:9-11; AC; NC. - RBW


  1. OBC 71, "My Dancing Day" (1 text, 2 tunes)
  3. ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #90, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" (1 text)
  4. BI, OBC071


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1833 (Sandys)
Keywords: religious Jesus dancing