25th December. Holly and the Ivy.

Happy Christmas.

The Victorians associated certain flowers with certain Saints’ Days said Richard Inwards’ ‘Weather Lore’ (1893): Snowdrop for Candlemas (2nd February), Michaelmas Daisy for Michaelmas (29th September), and Ivy and Holly  for Today the 25th December.

‘The Holly and the Ivy when they are both full grown’, from the popular Christmas carol reflects a widespread use in house and church, having been mentioned in Churchwardens’ Accounts from the 15th and 16th centuries and Tudor collections.

Surviving the Puritan times, when Christmas was banned, a broadsheet of 1711 collected by Joshua Sylvester in 1861 shows the Victorians taking the carol to heart. Being red and green, the Christmas colours, their association with eternal life, (along with mistletoe), was inherent in their continuing popularity down the ages.

The Holly and the Ivy, words and  melody we now know became established in 1911 in Cecil Sharp’s, English Folk Carols, after hearing them from a Mrs Mary Clayton in Chipping Camden, Gloucs.


First verse of carol an anonymous broadsheet published by H. Wadsworth., Birmingham 1814-18.

First verse of the carol, an anonymous broadsheet published by H. Wadsworth, Birmingham 1814-18. Notice in the chorus how the sun is repeated. The Ivy is only referred to in the first verse.

Several early carols pursued the Holly and Ivy theme such as the Sans Day Carol with pagan associations of sympathetic magic: Holly having good, strong male attributes and Ivy with those clinging, evil and female.


Holly and Ivy in Wales.

Holly and Ivy in Wales.

(1) Song catalogued by Roud, Folk Song Index 514.


telegraph.co.uk/Rupert Christiansen.14.12.2007.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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