For the last few years I’ve featured at least one Christmas song on the blog, posting the lyrics and discussing a bit of its history. I don’t think I managed a post this Christmas so we’ll do that today. I’ve picked the carol “Holly and the Ivy” because I happened to take pictures of holly and ivy during Christmas. Now for the history lesson: earliest versions of this British carol appears to hail from the 1700s, though the evergreen boughs have been celebrated at winter as far back as anyone can recall. In the 1800s, the text as we know it was collected from various sources and set to music by Cecil Sharp and the song was officially cataloged as Roud Folk Song Index No. 514. (that’s completely intuitive isn’t it?)
The lyrics are below. To save space I’ve included the refrain only once. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the song is only about holly. I’m afraid the ivy must feel very neglected after being promised a feature role by the title.
The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
There’s an interesting story on wikipedia about an older version of the lyrics in which holly and ivy are symbolized as a contest of sexes. It was common to have singing contests as part of the celebration of mid-winter and it’s believed that this earlier version was performed with men singing the holly verses and women singing about the ivy.
Blessings to you,