The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Joseph Was An Old Man

For Christmas

Version 2


Transcribed from a field recording by John A. Lomax in the Archive of Folk Culture, Library of Congress, AFS 1010 Al, Joseph and Mary, sung by Jilson Setters (James W. Day) at Ashland, Kentucky, 28 June 1937.

From Elizabeth Poston and Malcolm Williamson, A Book of Christmas Carols. (New York: Prentice Hall, 1988).

1. Joseph was an old man,
An old man was he,
He married Virgin Mary,
The Queen of Galilee.

2. As Joseph and Mary was walking,
Was walking one day,
'Here are apples, here are cherries,'
Mary did say.

3. Then Mary said to Joseph,
So meek and so mild,
"Joseph gather me some cherries,
For I am with child."

4. Then Joseph flew in anger,
In anger flew he,
'Let the father of the baby
Gather cherries for thee.'

5. Jesus spoke a few words,
A few words spoke he,
'Give my mother some cherries,
Bow down, cherry tree!

6. Bow down, cherry tree,
Low down to the ground.'
Mary gathered cherries,
And Joseph stood around.

7. Then Joseph took Mary
All on his right knee,
'What have I done, Lord?
Have mercy on me.'

8. Then Joseph took Mary
All on his left knee,
'Oh tell me, little Baby,
When thy birthday will be.'

9. 'The sixth of January
My birthday will be,
The stars in the elements
Will tremble with glee.'

Sheet Music from Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (1916), Carol 563
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer


A substantially similar version was reproduced in American Ballads and Songs, edited by Louise Pound (New York: Charles Schribner's Sons, 1922), p. 47, #19. It differs only very slightly from the version found above.

As Elizabeth Posted noted, English versions are found in Hone, Sandys, Sylvester and Husk. Sharp and Karpeles also collected it in the Southern Appalachians (Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, Oxford, 1932, i, 90 ff., six variants).

Editor's Note: Compare Joseph Were A Young Man where the Lord commands the cherry tree to bow down before Mary.

This carol is noted as one of several "doubting Joseph" carols by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man. See The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), Carol #129, pp. 446-8.

Translations on this site include:

See: The Cherry Tree Carol - Notes

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