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The Holly and the Ivy
“The holly and the ivy
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees in the wood
The holly bears the crown”.
We sing this old English folksong as a Christmas carol during this holiday season. What does it really mean? We find it at least as far back as 1710 as a carol,and in some form may be found before that date as a pagan song.
Christians think of the stickers on the holly branches as symbols of Christ’s crown of thorns. The crimson berries obviously would be symbols of his blood and the evergreen foliage as life after death as it remains green during the winter months. It was also believed to deck the halls with bows of holly would ward off evil spirits.
It was converted from pagan beliefs that the holly was a male plant and the ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England was that whatever was the first one to be brought into the house would rule the house for that year.
While other plants wilt in winter, holly remains green and strong, and the berries remain red in the harshest weather so favor us all during those long dark days.
The ancient Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life and also having magical powers.
Since medieval times the holly has represented Jesus and the ivy represents his mother, the Virgin Mary. So today we sing each verse with those messages and each verse concludes with:
“O, the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the organ
Sweet singing of the choir”.
Wishing all who sing it a very merry Christmas!
Contributed by Marilyn Goodwin