The Holly and the Ivy

Happy Solstice!

holly
holly

The Romans originated the tradition of cutting a holly branch and bringing it inside for Saturnalia.

When I was growing up I learned it was bad luck to bring ivy inside. I have NO idea of the logic behind this prohibition. I do know that every time I see one sold for use as a house plant I think it should come with some kind of warning label.

I’ve been playing Christmas songs on my ukulele and got curious about the lyrics of “The Holly and the Ivy.” I learned that these two evergreens have a long history of appearing in traditional songs. Here’s a snip of one verse in case this song is unfamiliar to you:

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.

I kept finding songs about hollies and ivies. Here’s a piece praising holly:

Holly beareth berries, berries red enough
The thistlecock, the poppingjay, dance in every bough
Welaway, sorry Ivy, what fowls hast thou,
But the sorry howlet that singeth “How-how?’

 

Ivy 6
ivy leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know why but ivy lyrics often seem to offer this kind of faint praise:

Ivy is both fair and green
in winter and in summer also,
and it is medicinable I ween,
who know the virtues that long thereto:
Ivy, Ivy
It is good and lusty
and in his kind a well good tree.

I kept looking around for a better verse about ivy but gave up eventually. I did find a nice reel in the plant’s honour. I guess people who like ivy are more musical than lyrical.

But people! What need for a contest? Can’t we all just get along? Both plants are green in winter. What’s not to like?

 More very old seasonal song lyrics can be found here.

 

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24 thoughts on “The Holly and the Ivy

  1. I love hollies and ivy…I don’t have traditional ones…I have several kinds of Yaupon Hollies and a whole wall of fig ivy! The history and lyrics are interesting. I love the image of you playing Christmas songs on a Ukelele : ) Happy Solstice! Wishing you much light in the new year!!!

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    1. Happy solstice!

      I love fig ivy. I think it is really pretty. And hurrah for yaupon. I have a yaupon thicket I call the bird garden since they were the one’s who planted it. =)

      The ukulele is a lovely instrument. it makes every song somehow happier and warmer.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Holly is so easy to grow here it is practically a weed … but so pretty in the winter. The only ivy I have is a little sprig in a pot.

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  2. The traditional “Holly and the Ivy” song is the one I’m most familiar with. Perhaps ivy suffers from being so easily found and grown? Familiarity breeding contempt or something close?

    Peace be with you this Winter Solstice gentle lady. May the light as it returns be mirrored in your own heart and hearth.

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    1. What a great link! Thanks so much for that. There were pubs in the city where I grew up. It was great because everyone participated whether they were musically inclined or not. So much fun.

      Liked by 1 person

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