12 Days of Christmas: The Holly and the Ivy

In the United States “The Holly and the Ivy” is not a song you hear often. It is traditional, and British, so choirs have an easy time finding arrangements to perform, but invariably when I have been in choirs for holiday shows, this is one of the songs where most of the singers actually don’t know the words from day one. Some people say that King Henry VIII wrote this carol, which is not true, but he did write a carol about holly, a love song, though, not a Christmas carol. One other tradition that feeds into this song is that of singing-contests between men and women, where the men sing carols praising holly for its “masculine” qualities, while women sing songs praising the ivy for its “feminine” qualities.

Here is a lovely, very English recording of this carol, sung by the Westminster Abbey choir. There are some other great choir recordings for this song on youtube, but I have been to an organ concert at Westminster Abbey, so I can imagine the gorgeous space where this choir is performing. I didn’t get a chance to see inside any of the other old churches really, when I was playing tourist in England all those years ago. – http://youtu.be/lmXf4chXbV0

And, for folks who are not so thrilled by choir music, here’s another of my favorite renditions, sung by Annie Lennox. I love the bits of dissonance added by the back-up singers. Keep in mind that instruments in the 1600’s and 1700’s had somewhat different tunings, so many older traditional songs sound ‘right’ with what to our ears is a touch of dissonance. – http://youtu.be/c33NUo5vKuE

Last but not least, Roger Whittaker’s rendition, with Whittaker’s nice baritone voice and a boys’ choir accompaniment-http://youtu.be/s7OEUkcob5g

Usually when I perform this one in choirs it is chopped up so that I only wind up singing 1/3 of the lines, so if I ever get to sing it in a choir where I need to know all the lines in order, I too will need to spend some time learning the lyrics properly.

Here are 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.

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

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 berry as red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.

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 prickle as sharp as any thorn,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.

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 bark as bitter as any gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

Advertisements

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
This entry was posted in music. Bookmark the permalink.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s