The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

O Joseph Was An Old Man

For Christmas

Source: "Taken from the mouth of a wandering gypsy girl in Berkshire. Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, Volume XII (Saturday, Dec. 13, 1873), pp. 461-462. Reproduced in Francis James Child, ed., The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. II, Part 1. (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1885, 1886), #54, "The Cherry Tree Carol", pp. 1-6.

See: The Cherry Tree Carol - Notes

1. O JOSEPH was an old man,
and an old man was he,
And he married Mary,
from the land of Galilee.

2. Oft after he married her,
how warm he were abroad,
. . . .
. . . .

3. Then Mary and Joseph
walkd down to the gardens cool;*
Then Mary spied a cherry,
as red as any blood.

4. ‘Brother Joseph, pluck the cherry,
for I am with child:’
‘Let him pluck the cherry, Mary,
as is father to the child.’

5. Then our blessed Saviour spoke,
from his mother’s womb:
‘Mary shall have cherries,
and Joseph shall have none.’

6. From the high bough the cherry-tree
bowd down to Mary’s knee;
Then Mary pluckt the cherry,
by one, two, and three.

7. They went a little further,
and heard a great din:
‘God bless our sweet Saviour,
our heaven’s love in.’

8. Our Saviour was not rocked
in silver or in gold,
But in a wooden cradle,
like other babes all.

9. Our Saviour was not christend
in white wine or red,
But in some spring water,
like other babes all.

Footnote and Note, p. 6:

* Verse 3, line 2: to the garden school.

The first stanza is said to have this variation in Worcestershire:

Joseph was a hoary man,
  and a hoary man was he.

Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, III, 75.

Editor's Note:

Another copy of the Cherry Tree Carol was reprinted in "The Guardian," Dec. 27, 1871. See Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, Volume X, p. 73. Source: Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. 2, #54, "Cherry Tree Carol," p. 1. See: Fitz-Ralph's Cherry Tree Carol.

This version was one of four listed in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. 2, pp. 1-6. The other versions came from Sandys, 1833; Husk, Songs of the Nativity, p. 59, from a Worcester broadside "of the last century"; and Bramley & Stainer, Christmas Carols, p. 60. The second version is also found in Hone's Ancient Mysteries, p. 90; Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, p. 45; Birmingham clap-book, of about 1843, in B. Harris Cowper's Apocryphal Gospels, p. xxxviii. See: Child, #54, The Cherry-Tree Carol Note.

I have been unable to find the complete carol that begins "Joseph was a hoary man."

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