Sunday Poetry – Christmas

The Holly and the Ivy is one of my very favourite carols. There seem to be several theories about the origins of the carol but I like to think that the imagery of the holly, which lends itself to representing passages in the life of Christ, was appropriated from pre-Christian ideas as much as Christian ones. The ivy only seems to be included because it’s a traditional Christmas decoration; the holly has the starring role. The chorus definitely seems pre-Christian with the rising of the sun seeming quite a pagan image.

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
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 lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour
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 berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
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 prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
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 bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
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 and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing in the choir

There’s another carol which uses the holly as a central image. I have a couple of versions of this on CD & I think it’s lovely. It’s called the Sans Day carol. It’s also known as the St Day carol & has Cornish origins. If you haven’t heard this one before, here is Kings’ College Choir singing it.

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary bore Jesus, all wrapped up in silk

        And Mary bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
        And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
        Holly! Holly!
        And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died on the cross

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died for us all

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead

4 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Christmas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s