The Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy is a French Folk Melody with an Unknown Composer

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A story passed down over the centuries (its origin unknown) tells us that the holly tree (Holy Tree) originated by springing up here and there beneath the footsteps of Christ as he walked the earth. The sharp points of the plant prophesying of His crown of thorns, the bitter bark representing His death, the red berries His blood, the white flower His resurrection. Holly and Ivy have been popular Christmas decorations since at least the fifteenth century.

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The composer of The Holly and the Ivy is unknown. The tune is a French folk melody. The song has been altered somewhat over the years. The version most familiar today was first published by Cecil Sharp (1859 - 1924), the founding father of the folklore revival in 20th century England. Sharp published this and many other English folk songs in his 1974 book, Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs. He also spent time in the United States, compiling a great number of American folk song into his book, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians.

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The Holy 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

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet savior


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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Written by: Connie Ruth Christiansen