I’m always curious about the history of songs so the other day while driving to the plant store to pick up some pine boughs for the house, I was listening to the familiar Christmas Carol – “The Holly and the Ivy”. It’s a powerful thing when music transports us into memories and this song immediately reminded me of my mother who loved this song for two reasons – the first obvious one is that it includes my middle name, Ivy, named after my grandmother and the other was the story mom told me about her memories of the song.
My mother’s background is British and this song, a British folk Christmas Carol, dates back to the early nineteen century, written by a gentleman named Cecil James Sharp. Holly and Ivy plants grew as far back as Medieval times and are connected to the Winter Solstice – these symbolic plants were used to decorate the inside of homes leading up to the darkest night. Traditional foods were prepared, candles lit, and music, dance and merriment filled each house; welcoming the warmth and togetherness of family and friendship during a particularily cold, damp time of year. In Medieval folklore, these two plants are also symbolic of masculinity (Holly) and femininity (Ivy) and perhaps this is evident in the verse “the holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.”
My mother’s memory-connection to the song is when she would return home on the train from boarding school, leaving the foothills of the Himalayas in the distance. Her uncle had an old gramaphone tucked in the corner, and out of its delicate, etched brass speaker, this song played – and that brought warmth to her tender heart knowing that she was home for Christmas.
Words and Image – Ann Ivy Male