The Holly and the Ivy is sung here by St Paul’s Cathedral Choir. It’s a traditional carol, with a respectable history going back to the Middle Ages, but it inevitably makes me think of the pagan emphasis on the forests and evergreens of the far north. The trees are given Christian significance but this always seems an ‘add-on’, an attempt to bring Yule to Rome, or Rome to Yule. I love the melody.
I’m currently reading a really interesting book called A Book of Christmas by William Sansom. It explores the links between Christianity and older pagan festivals, both because the early church adopted traditions and added a Christian element to them, and because some of the gospel stories are deliberately ‘tweaked’ to make more of an impact. For instance, the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus have a lot in common with similar stories of Apollo and Mithras and it is likely that dates etc. were altered for missionary purposes. Today I learnt that carols prior to mediaeval times were non-religious songs connected with joyful ring dances. Obviously worth adopting and bringing into the church fold!
The holly in the photograph grows in the unadopted lane where we live. It’s in an ancient hedge and most years there are berries. We now have a holly sapling in our garden, presumably a gift from the lane.