The Holly and the Ivy

My family’s notably-sized Christmas music library has been the soundtrack providing the backdrop to family activities, whether hanging around the house or driving to work and school, since at least a week before Thanksgiving. One of the tracks from one of the first couple of Christmas albums that we owned as a married couple came on the other day and I was struck, for the first time for some reason, by the beautiful intermingling of imagery and lyric in “The Holly and the Ivy,” as performed by Roger Whitaker. While Mr. Whitaker’s music is certainly not typical of my tastes in general, my appreciation of Christmas music accommodates a much wider circle of musical styles than during the rest of the year.

I’ve been finding myself much more appreciative of the simpler decorations of the holiday season as I’ve grown older. Driving by a house that is neatly decorated in green garland and red ribbons with simple candle lights in the windows strikes up an entirely different sentiment than the Griswold-like Christmas displays which, while I also appreciate them in a different way, seem to land further away from the true spirit of Christmas.

Like holiday decorations, my appreciation of Christmas music focuses a little bit more on the center of all that’s out there each year. It is the traditional songs, the old hymns set to music, church choirs, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Johnny Cash ring true far more than the latest contemporary version of  “Happy Christmas (War Is Over).”

“The Holly and the Ivy,” uses simple language and image association, arranged in a beautiful manner, to focus on the core message and beauty of the holiday season:

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in wood,
The holly bears the crown

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet savior

The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good

The holly bears a prickle, as sharp as any thorn and Mary
Bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas day in morn

O the rising of the sun, and the running
Of the deer, the playing
Of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir

My hope in posting this bit on “The Holly and the Ivy” is simply to shed an extra sliver of light on the beauty of an old, old Christmas carol that seems to get lost in the mix of the overwhelming pile of contemporary holiday music that exists in 2012. I hope you will seek it out this year and, perhaps, enjoy it just a bit more than you would have before.

A great resource with some interesting historical perspective on the imagery in “The Holly and the Ivy”

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