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The Holly and the Ivy

[ Roud 514 ; Ballad Index FSWB383 ; Bodleian Roud 514 ; trad.]

Both the Haddo House Choir and the Skinner's Bottom Glee Singers sang The Holly and the Ivy in 1957 in a live Christmas Day broadcast on BBC Radio. This was published in 2000 on the Alan Lomax Collection CD Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year.

Peter Jones of Bromsash, Ross, Hereford sang The Holly and the Ivy on the anthology Songs of Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9; Caedmon 1961, Topic 1970).

In 1969, The Young Tradition split up while recording their album of Christmas songs with Shirley and Dolly Collins, The Holly Bears the Crown. It was only in 1995 that the album was finally released on the Fledg'ling label. On this album they sang The Holly and the Ivy with Heather Wood singing lead, but to create some confusion they called the song The Holly Bears the Crown and even used it as title track of the album.

Steeleye Span recorded The Holly and the Ivy in 1972 as the B-side of their single Gaudete. It was re-released in November 1973 when the A-side Gaudete reached #14 as Steeleye's first outstanding chart success. This 1973 version starts with special Christmas greetings from the band members, see below. This version with the greetings was reissued in 1981 on the Australian-only LP Recollections and in 1999 on the CD A Rare Collection 1972-1996.

Maddy Prior also sang The Holly and the Ivy with The Carnival Band in 1987 on their Saydisc album A Tapestry of Carols.

Ivor Hill and Family sang The Holly and the Ivy in a recording made by Mike Yates at Bromsberrow Heath, Gloucestershire. in 1980. This ws included in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and tunes from the Mike Yates Collection, The Birds Upon the Tree.

The Albion Band sang The Holly and the Ivy in 1980 on Lark Rise to Candleford, and as the Albion Christmas Band in 2006 on Traditional and in 2009 on Winter Songs.

John Kirkpatrick et al. recorded The Holly and the Ivy in 1998 for their Folkworks/Fellside CD Wassail! A Traditional Celebration of an English Midwinter. He also sang it in 2006 on his CD Carolling and Crumpets where he commented in the liner notes:

This traditional folk carol, which has ancestors going back hundreds of years, is the perfect example of how to sing about the Christmas story whilst keeping in a hefty wedge of pagan symbolism for good measure. The tune for this version was collected by Cecil Sharp from a Mrs Kilford in Lilleshall, Shropshire, in the 18th of December 1911.

BACCApella (the singers of Bacca Pipes Folk Club; amongst them at the time were Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle, Fay Hield, Mike and Helen Hockenhull, and Tim Moon) sang The Holly and the Ivyy in 1999 on their privately released CD The Haworth Set.

Kate Rusby sang The Holly and the Ivy in 2008 on her CD Sweet Bells, and Kerfuffle sang it in 2009 on their Midwinter album Lighten the Dark.

Jon Boden, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, Gavin Davenport, Fay Hield and Sam Sweeney sang The Holly and the Ivy to a different tune than the usual one at the Royal Hotel in Dungworth as the December 14, 2010 entry of Jon's project A Folk Song a Day.

This is a video of carollers at the Royal Hotel in Dungworth singing The Holly and the Ivy, probably in 2008:

After Andy Turner recorded The Holly and the Ivy with Magpie Lane in 1995 for their album Wassail! A Country Christmas, he sang it and Christmas Now Is Drawing Near At Hand as the December 18, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

In quires and places where they sing, if you hear The Holly and the Ivy it will invariably be sung to the tune which Cecil Sharp collected in 1909 from Mrs Mary Clayton at Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, and which was included in the Oxford Book of Carols. On the folk scene, this tune exercises a similar hegemony. It was recorded in the 1950s from Peter Jones of Bromsash in Herefordshire, and that recording was included on the LP Songs of Ceremony (part of the Caedmon / Topic Folk Songs of Britain series). I first heard it in 1976 or 77, at a mass door-to-door carol-singing event in the village of Warehorne in Kent, where the singing was led by John Jones and Cathy Lesurf of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. It was an absolute revelation to me a) that carols like Angels from the Realms of Glory sounded really good when accompanied by melodeons and guitars, and b) that there was more than one tune to some carols—notably this one, and While Shepherds Watched (little did I know at that stage just how many different tunes While Shepherds could be sung to).

I’m joined on this recording by my son, Joe, on fiddle. He said he’d never actually played the tune before, but it was lodged in his brain after “years of exposure to Magpie Lane at Christmas”. Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any permanent harm.

Bella Hardy sang The Holly and the Ivy in 2012 on her CD Bright Morning Star.

The Swedish group West of Eden sang The Holly and the Ivy on their 2016 CD Another Celtic Christmas.

Compare to this the Watersons' The Holly Bears a Crown which shares most of the verses with the present song but has a completely different chorus.

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing The Holly and the IvyKate Rusby sings The Holly and the Ivy

We wish you a very Merry Christmas, Christmas,
From Steeleye Span in Engeland
And we are the right way up, ha ha

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here
in the middle of Salisbury Plain.
Gather together here to wish all of you, everywhere
from Steeleye Span a very, very Merry Christmas
and, indeed, a happy New Near

Uh this is Rick Kemp
saying hello to all my friends down there in the Antips
and have a good festive season and keep buying the albums

This is Tim Hart wishing you a very, very, Merry, Merry Christmas
Now, Tim!

This is Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span
wishing the whole world a Merry Chrismas

Oh, the holly and the ivy
Now they are both full grown;
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly tree bears the crown.

Oh, 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.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing all in the choir.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing all in the choir.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus
To do poor sinners good.

Oh, the holly tree bears a blossom
As white as any milk,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
All wrapped up in silk.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus
To be our sweet Saviour.

Oh, the holly tree bears a berry
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus
For to redeem us all.

Oh, the holly tree bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus
On Christmas day in the morn.

The holly bears a flower
As white as any milk,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus
All wrapped up in silk.

(repeat first verse)

(repeat first verse)