Song of the Week: The Holly and the Ivy

It’s already Friday, and our Song of the Week feature is nigh on life support just under two weeks after its resurrection. In correcting course, it seems appropriate to run a series of Christmas songs to get back on track, and to get our readers into the Holiday mood.

The Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy has been around almost as long as Christmas itself. Originating from the early, Druid songs and ceremonies of the British Isles, The Holly and the Ivy became a mainstay of Christmas hymnody during the 1400 and 1500s. 

The music is fairly simple as one might expect Druid music to be, but it commends a delicate grace toward the Christmas season. In its best form, as in the Bing Crosby version below, the music is light and festive. It’s not hard to envision carolers singing the song in a London pub, slogging back pints around the corner piano.

The lyrics, by contrast, are fairly austere. They invoke nearly every icon of the Christmas season, from the purity of Marry in Bethlehem to the blood of Christ at Calvary.

But the mix works. While it’s true that the Christian faith is sometimes called cheerless, and even dreary by some, the overarching theme of the music and of Christmas itself is one of great joy – all made possible by Jesus’s birth.

With that bit of introduction, please enjoy these initial sounds of the season brought to you courtesy of the Pax Plena Song of the Week, The Holly and the Ivy. The Bing Crosby version begins at the 2:09 mark, while Cambridge University’s King’s College Choir performs the song in full below.


King’s College

The Holly and the Ivy

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 of 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.


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