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Holly and the Ivy Chipping Campden Connection

The famous Christmas Carol, the Holly and the Ivy is synonymous with Christmas.  Many don’t realise though, that this famous Christmas Carol has a direct link to our wonderful Cotswold town of Chipping Campden.

Read on to find out what The Holly and the Ivy Chipping Campden connection is.

The Holly and The Ivy Connection

Oh, the Holly and the Ivy
When they were both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The Holly bears the crown.

And the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing all in the choir

Believe it or not, it’s this part of the carol which has a direct connection to Chipping Campden.  These words can be found in the early 19th century and were even discovered in an early 18th-century Broadside (old printed lyrics).

Keep the above lyrics in mind as we discuss carol’s history in greater detail below.

The Background the Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy” is a traditional British folk Christmas carol, listed as number 514 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

These are words that must resonate with many people, especially around Christmas time and the festive season.

Whatever Christian faith you follow, or not as the case may be, it is probable that you will have heard or sung these words at some time or other.

So, what is it all about and where does it come from, you may ask.

There is quite a back story behind this popular and well-known carol. Incidentally, you might be tempted to ask, OK, so what is a Carol? More of that later, read on…

Holly, especially the variety found in Europe, is often referred to by the name Christ’s thorn. Since medieval times, the plant has carried a Christian symbolism, in which the holly represents Jesus and the ivy represents His mother, the Virgin Mary.

Christians have identified a wealth of symbolism in its form. The sharpness of the leaves recalls the crown of thorns worn by Jesus; the red berries, as the drops of blood that were shed for salvation; and the shape of the leaves, which resemble flames, serve to reveal God’s burning love for His people.

Combined with the fact that holly maintains its bright colours during the Christmas season, it naturally came to be associated with the Christian holiday. As such, holly and ivy have been a mainstay of British Advent and Christmas decorations for Church use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when they were mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts.

There are many variants of the theme expressed in this carol, such as “The Sans Day carol” and “The Holly bears a berry”

Chipping Campden Christmas

What is a Carol?

The word “carol” comes from the old French word “Carole” and was a popular circle dance form accompanied by singing and dates from the mid “1100s”. By the Middle Ages, it had become to be more associated with Christmas and the nativity.

There are many variants of the theme expressed in this carol, such as “The Sans Day carol” and “The Holly bears a berry”.

The Holly and The Ivy Chipping Campden Link

Over a hundred years ago now, a gentleman called Cecil Sharp (an English folk song collector) came to Chipping Campden to collect folk songs and dances. He is widely recognised as the most prolific of England’s collectors during a period that became known as the first folk revival.

He was touring England and visited Campden a few times, as had heard of Chipping Campden’s Morris Dancers and wanted to see those dances and note them down.  So, it was reasonable that while here he would collect local songs.

So, on 13th January 1909, he called on Mrs Mary Ann Clayton (Mary Clayton), who lived in Sheep Street, and she sang him a carol she recalled from her youth. Now the tune she remembered is known today as the Holly and Ivy tune, sung at services all through the Christmas period, but there is a line in the verse that is not what we use today.

The holly and the berry
As red as any blood
And merry rose sweet Jesus Christ
For to do poor sinners good.

We sing today “and Mary bore” not “merry rose,” slightly puzzling, but Mary was in her 60s and her memory may not have been quite as sharp as it once was, or simply Sharp may have misheard.

About 3 years later, Sharp collected a version in Cornwall which gave him a chorus, which has its own peculiarity.

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
Is playing of the merry we done,
Sweet singing of the choir

In the 3rd line, we find “is playing of the merry we done”.

Again, this was all recalled from memory and as we all know, it can play its own tricks on the ear. Overall, Sharp collected 4 different tunes and 6 versions of the words.

The words themselves are very old, in pagan times the holly represented man and ivy the woman and together they made strong magic associated with fertility, of course!

Camdpen Online Christmas Advent Calendar


What we can say is that the most popular version of the Carol was collected in Chipping Campden by Cecil Sharp’s visit, and if he had not come to our lovely Chipping Campden town, then we could well have been singing it to a different tune.

For more fun this Christmas in Chipping Campden, visit our Chipping Campden Christmas page where you can open our online advent calendar each day, play some games and even email Father Christmas.

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