> The Copper Family > Songs > Christmas Song / The Trees Are All Bare

Christmas Song / The Trees Are All Bare

[ Roud 1170 ; Ballad Index CopSe202 ; Mudcat 15944 ; trad.]

Christmas Song is a song from the repertoire of the Copper Family as printed in The Copper Family Song Book. Bob Copper sang it in 1971 on the Copper Family’s Leader Records box set A Song for Every Season. John Copper and Jon Dudley sang it in 1995 on the album Coppersongs 2, and the Copper Family sang it in 2007 on Coppers at Christmas.

George Townshend of Lewes, Sussex, sang The Trees They’re All Bare in 1960-64 to Brian Matthews and in 1960 to Ken Stubbs. Three recordings were included in 2000 on his Musical Traditions anthology Come, Hand to Me the Glass. Ken Stubbs also printed it in 1970 in his book of English Folk Songs From the Home Counties, The Life of a Man. Brian Matthews and Rod Stradling commented in the the Musical Traditions album’s booklet:

A song unknown outside Sussex, it would seem—Roud knows of only two singers apart from George who knew it. One was the Downs shepherd, Michael Blann from Upper Beeding, whose MS songbook is in the Sussex Library, and whose story is told in the Andrews book Shepherd of the Downs. The other singer(s) being various specified and unspecified members of the Copper family.

The song crops up in a four part harmony version in Sussex, suggesting that, like Dame Durden, it made an easy crossing between written and oral tradition.

Magpie Lane sang The Trees Are All Bare in 1995 on their Beautiful Jo album Wassail! A Country Christmas, and Andy Turner included two Magpie Lane versions from December 2013 as the 28 December 2014 entries of his project A Folk Song a Week. Magpie Lane also sang it (plus Christmas Day in the Morning and The Sussex Carol) in the finale of their 2021 Christmas concert at St. Leonard’s Church, Bengeo, Hertford:

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang The Coppers’ Christmas Song in 1998 on their CD Hindsight. They noted:

One of the most important influences on the harmony singers of the Revival must be the Copper family, who with their songs and reminiscences evoke the essence of rural England. This song, chosen also for its seasonal significance, is like a series of Christmas card scenes, without sentimentality but with great perception and feeling.

Chris Molan & Harry Langston used to sing The Trees Are All Bare at the Golden Fleece in Stroud in the early 2000s, referring to the Copper family version. This recording was included in 2005 on the Musical Traditions anthology Songs From the Golden Fleece.

Bob Lewis sang The Trees Are All Bare on his 2003 CD The Painful Plough.

Craig Morgan Robson sang The Christmas Song on their 2006 CD Stranded. They noted:

This one is from the repertoire of the Copper Family.

“The wheel of the year had run round another full circle—from lambing time to the long hot sheep shearing days of June along through haying and harvest and on to the dark, dung-spreading days of December. O, yes, there was plenty of work and worry, but there was also a song for every season…” A Song for Every Season—Bob Copper

The New Scorpion Band sang Christmas Song (The Trees Are All Bare) in 2011 on their CD Nowell Sing We. They noted:

This evocative description of a frozen midwinter landscape comes from the Copper Family of Rottingdean, Sussex.

Martyn Wyndham-Read and company sang the Christmas Song in 2012 on their Maypoles to Mistletoe album The Seasons of the Year.

Tan Yows sang The Christmas Song on their 2014 CD Eweltide Bleatings.

Chris Foster sang The Trees They’re All Bare in 2017 on his CD Hadelin. He noted:

Ken Stubbs recorded this charming song from George Townshend (1882-1967) at Lewes, Sussex, in 1960. It paints beautiful word pictures of winter scenes, conjuring up images that you might find in old Christmas cards or woodcut prints. I tweaked the words a bit and hit on the idea of repeating the first two lines and arranging the song for mixed voices after the manner of the Copper Family of Rottingdean, Sussex. Bára Grímsdóttir made the vocal arrangement.

Finest Kind sang Christmas Song on their 2018 Christmas album I Am Christmas. They noted:

Christmas Song is from the Copper family of Rottingdean, Sussex.

Shirley Collins sang The Christmas Song in 2020 on her Domino album Heart’s Ease. The song was also released as a single in November 2020.

This video shows Janice Burns and Jon Doran singing The Trees Are All Bare in a 2020 home video:

John Kirkpatrick sang The Trees Are All Bare in 2022 on his Fledg’ling album Joy & Jubilation. He noted:

This appeared, under various titles, in books of songs (“songsters”), and as a street ballad, from the 1750s onwards. It’s a song about the harshness of winter rather than anything specifically to do with Christmas, but although the words are not bursting with cheeriness, they are carried by the most gorgeous of tunes, which must be the reason a handful of traditional singers, especially in Sussex, have been keeping the piece alive for our benefit. I’ve stared at The Copper Family version of this song for years, almost deciding to do it, but not quite managing it, My wife fell in love with the song after hearing the Oxfordshire group Magpie Lane sing it as the finale to their Christmas Show, and gave me no peace until I arranged it for us to do with Castle Carols. I’ve expanded the tune slightly, and a great deal of tinkering with the words ensued to make them singable in the fugueing lines.


Bob Copper sings the Christmas Song

The trees all are bare not a leaf to be seen
And the meadows their beauty have lost.
Now winter has come and ’tis cold for man and beast,
And the streams they are,
And the streams they are all fast bound down with frost.

’Twas down in the farmyard where the oxen feed on straw,
They send forth their breath like the steam.
Sweet Betsy the milkmaid now quickly she must go,
For flakes of ice she finds,
For flakes of ice she finds a-floating on her cream.

’Tis now all the small birds to the barn-door fly for food
And gently they rest on the spray.
A-down the plantation the hares do search for food,
And lift their footsteps sure,
Lift their footsteps sure for fear they do betray.

Now Christmas is come and our song is almost done
For we soon shall have the turn of the year.
So fill up your glasses and let your health go round,
For I wish you all,
For I wish you all a joyful New Year.

George Townshend sings The Trees They’re All Bare

The trees they’re all bare, not one green leaf to be seen,
And those little doves [indecipherable] at morn;
As for the leaves, they are all fallen from the trees
And the streams are fast, and the streams are fast,
Fast bound down by the hoarfrost.

The poor little small birds to the barn doors fly for food,
Silent they restle on the spray;
Our poor timid hare search the woods all for her food,
Lest her footsteps should, lest her footsteps should,
Her innocence betray.

The poor little pigeons sit shivering on the barn,
Coldly the north winds do blow;
Our poor innocent sheep from the downs unto their fold,
With their fleeces all, with their fleeces all
Quite covered with snow.

The poor little oxen in the yard all foddered on straw
Sends forth their breath like the steam;
Our sweet-looking milkmaid she finds that she must go.
Flakes of ice finds she, flakes of ice finds she,
She finds all on her cream.

Now Christmas is come and our song we have sung,
Soon will come the Springtime of year;
Come hand to me the glass and I’ll drink your healths all round,
And I wish you all, and I wish you all
A bright and happy New Year.


I copied the lyrics from the then Copper Family’s website and from the booklet of George Townshend’s anthology.