The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Holly And Ivy

Words and Music: Unknown

Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Compare: Holvyr And Heyvy Made A Gret Party (Thomas Wright, 1847)
See Notes under The Holly And The Ivy.

1. Holly and Ivy made a great party,1
Who should have the mastery
        In lands where they go.

2. Then spake Holly, "I am fierce and jolly,
I will have the mastery
        In lands where they1b go.

3. Then spake Ivy, "I am loud and proud,
And I will have the mastery
        In lands where they go.

4. Then spake Holly, and set him down on his knee,
"I pray thee, gentle Ivy,
Say2 me no villany
        In lands where they go.

1. Rickert notes: "Here, division into parties, i.e., contention. Return

1b. In the version given by Sylvester, in this and all following verses, the word "they" is replaced "we." Return

2. Husk notes: "Essay, do." Return


Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern Including Some Never Before Given In Any Collection. Edited, With Notes. (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861).

"THE custom of decking houses and churches with ever-greens, towards the close of the year, appears to be of very ancient date ; it being, in fact, one of those remnants of Paganism, which, although forbidden by the councils of the early Christian Church, had obtained too strong a hold on the prejudices of the people to be readily relinquished, as its transmission down to the present day serves to prove.

"I am indebted to Mr. Wright's MS. for [this carol]."

Editor's Note: The reference to "Mr. Wright" is to Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed, From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (London: The Percy Society, 1847), Song #40, printed verbatim from a manuscript probably owned by a professional musician, and apparently written in the latter half of the fifteenth century, circa 1471-1485.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

Also found in William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity. London: John Camden Hotten, 1868:

"The custom of decking houses with evergreens about the close of the year is of Pagan origin, and was adopted by the Christians. It long since obtained  firm hold in England. In many of the Churchwarden's accounts in London parishes we meet with charges like the following: --

  • "Holme and Ivy at Christmas Eve, iiij d." St. Mary at Hill,
  • "It'm for Holly and Ivy at Christmas, ij d. ob." St. Martin Outwich, A.D. 1524.
  • "Paid for Holly and Ivye at Christmas, ij d." Ibid., A.D. 1525

"[This] carol is from a manuscript of the fifteenth century: --"

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 262. She also notes, at pages 301-2:

"The holly and ivy carols exist in various forms and in many MMS. The singing of them seems to be a survival of some sort of Nature-worship. The two plants most characteristic of the season of the year seem to have been impersonated -- holly by young men, ivy by maidens; and the poems are regularly in the form of a debate or contention as to the respective merits of each. Perhaps in the decoration of the hall the work was so apportioned, and possibly there was earlier some sort of rude drama or dance connected with the ceremony. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1779, p. 137, is mentioned a Shrovetide custom in East Kent which illustrates this old contention. The girls of a village burn a "Holly Boy" stolen from the boys; and the boys an "Ivy Girl" stolen from the girls, each in different parts of the village. The root idea seems to be whether the master or the mistress shall rule the household.

"Sandys in his Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833, p. cxxii) tells a story that likewise associates this idea with Christmas. An old knight, while his guests were at table, asked that a carol be sung by the men who ruled their wives, and there was but a feeble response; but when he called upon the women who ruled their husbands, they fell all to such a singing that there was never heard such a caterwauling piece of music."

Editor's Note: See the discussion of "holly boy" and "ivy girl" in Old Shrove-tide Revels from Hone's Every Day Book (Volume 1, 1825). See also the under The Holly And The Ivy.

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