Monday, December 15, 2008

The Holly and the Ivy

I've had 'The Holly and the Ivy' in head for the second straight Christmas. So much so, my wife and I made a swag of holly and ivy to hang on our entrance gate. It's a song I don't really remember singing when I was a kid. After all, it was about plants. No flying horned, red-nosed animals. No fat fellows in furry, red suits, watchin' you sleep, sliding down the chimney. Holly, ivy. Boring.

After looking into the lyrics, they seemed really odd. The first part of the verses paint a beautiful, sylvan setting and the last part of the verses are overtly Christian. They didn't really fit, this was clearly part of a much broader war on 'pre-Christmas'. I assumed it was a pre-christian, pagan, winter solstice song, that had somehow managed to survive. After further digging around the internet(and several horrific midi files), I eventually found several pre-christian variations. The song apparently derived from "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy", has some Druidic roots and in the interest of brevity, I will leave it at that. In a way, when you listen to the song, you are listening to a piece of an ancient celebration. More info the regarding the Holly and the Ivy at this site.

"Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is."

Here's the song as we know it today.


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