The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Holly Boy And Ivy Girl

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 1, pp. 318-19

A sport formerly practiced in East Kent. A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1779 says: "Mr. Urban being on a visit Tuesday last in a little obscure village in this county, I found an odd kind of sport going forward: the girls, from eighteen to five or six years old, were assembled in a crowd, and burning an uncouth effigy, which they called an Holly-Boy, and which it seems they had stolen from the boys, who, in another part of the village were assembling together, and burning what they called an Ivy-Girl, which they had stolen from the girls: all this ceremony was accompanied with loud huzzas, noise and acclamations. What it all means I cannot tell, although I inquired of several of the oldest people in the place, who could only answer that it had always been a sport at this season of the year."

A correspondent of Mr. Brand described the Ivy Girl to him somewhat differently, namely, as a figure composed of some of the best corn the field produces, and made, as well as they can, into a human shape; this is afterwards curiously dressed by the women, and adorned with paper trimmings, cut to resemble a cap, ruffles, handkerchief, &c. of the finest lace. It is brought home with the last load of corn from the field upon the waggon, and they suppose entitles them to a supper at the expense of their employers.

Naogeorgus of Kirchemair seems to allude to a similar practice in his Popish Kingdom, translated by Googe, 1570:

"Now when at length the pleasant time of Shrove-tide comes in place,
And cruel fasting dayes at hand approach with solemn grace:
Then olde and yong are both as made, as ghestes of Bacchus feast,
And foure dayes long they tipple square, and feede and never reast.
Downe goes the hogges in every place, and puddings every wheare
Do Swareme: the dice are shakte and tost, and cardes apace they teare:
In every house are shotes and cryes and mirth, and revell route,
And dainte tables spread, and all be set with ghests about:
With sundrie playes and Christmas games, and feare and shame away,
The tongue is set at libertie, and hath no kinde of stay.
All things are lawfull then and done, no pleasure passed by,
That in their minds they can deuise, as if they then should die."

Purchas, speaking of the Peruvian superstitions mentions an usage rather analogous to the English one: "In the sixt moneth they offered a hundred sheepe of all colours, and then made a feast, bringing mayz from the fields into the house, which they yet vse. This feast is made, comming from the farme to the house, saying certain songs, and praying that the mayz may long continue. They put a quantitie of the mayz (the best that groweth in their farmes) in a thing which they call Pirus, with certain ceremonies watching three nights. Then doe they put it in the richest garment they haue, and, being thus wrapped and dressed, they worship this Pirua, holding it in great veneration, and saying, It is the mother of the mayz of their inheritances, and that by this meanes the mayz augments and is preserued. In this moneth they make a particular sacrifice, and the witches demand of this Pirua if it hath strength enough to continue vntill the next yeere. And if it answers no, then they carrie this maiz to the farme whence it was taken, to burne and make another Pirua as before: and this foolish vanitie still continueth.' "Pilgrimes," vol. v. lib. ix., c. 12. He cites Acosta, liv. vi. c. 3.

Note: See Mr. Hone's discussion in Old Shrove-tide Revels.

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