Day 6

The Holly and The Ivy – An Ancient Battle of the Sexes?

Advent6Here in the UK, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ is one of our most recognisable and well-loved Christmas carols. However, few of us realise the symbolism contained in its verses which relate to ancient fertility mythology, associating the male with holly and good and the female with ivy and evil (Ed. typical!). Some suggest that it may have accompanied some sort of ritual mating dance and maintain that as the ivy is never mentioned after the first line there may even be some lost verses.

The text was first published in a broadside dated 1710 and may have originated in the Cotswolds. In 1861, it appeared in a collection of carols edited by Joshua Sylvester, and was embraced by the Victorians. The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp who heard it sung by Mrs Mary Clayton of Chipping Campden in 1909.

Here’s the lyrics:

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.

Refrain: O 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 any 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.

Source/ Further information:

The Telegraph – The Story Behind The Carol