Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holly and Ivy and Stuff

Dawno posts a regular Monday Meme, over at AbsoluteWrite, in the blogging forum.

"Dec. 12th AWMondayMeme

List the holiday songs you know by heart, but only the ones where you know more than just the first verse."

I'm not actually going to do that. I know an awful lot of holiday songs, though; so Dawno's challenge started me thinking about the Christmas songs I love the most, and thinking about Christmas carols, in general.

I love the old songs, like The Holly and the Ivy, probably circa the mid 1700s, but I've seen at least one suggestion that the origins of the song pre-date European Christianity.

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
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

Musical historian William Studwell classifies "The Holly and the Ivy" as a folk song, and traces its origins to the Gloucestershire region of western England.

The Coventry Carol is another fine old song, from the mid 1500s. There are differing versions, here's one collected from Appalachia, called Lulle Lullay.

Lullay, Thou tiny little Child
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay;
Lullay, Thou tiny little Child,
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

Oh sisters two, how may we do
To preserve this day?
This poor Childling for whom we sing
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

Herod, the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His soldiers in their strength and might,
All children young to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say,
For at thy parting nor say nor sing
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

And when the stars in gather do,
In their far venture stay,
Then smile as dreaming, Little One,
Bye-bye, lulle, lullay.

Revelers going from house to house drinking, celebrating, and singing certainly seems to predate Christian traditions around caroling--after all, the Romans had Bacchus.

There are a number of wassailing songs and traditions. In my internet wanderings, I came across a modern version I hadn't seen, "Homeless Wassail":

"Wassail, wassail,all over the town,
Our cup is white and our ale is brown"
But huddled on the iron grate
we poor and hungry curse our fate.

cho: No wassail bowl for such as these
No turkey scraps, no ale nor cheese,
This Christmas Eve our heart's desire
Is a bottle of gin and a trashcan fire.

Good Christian, mind, as home you go
With dreams of holly and mistletoe
That the holly bears a dreadful thorn
For those who wake to a frozen dawn.

Oh, where is He, that holy child
Once born of Mary, meek and mild?
And whither peace, goodwill to men
Now and forevermore, amen?

All ye who dine with face aglow
In Reninensi atrio (in the Queen's hall---Latin)
Pray pause awile at pleasure's door
And sup some sorrow with the poor.

"Wassail, wassail,all over the town,
Our cup is white and our ale is brown"
This cold and hunger, pain and care
Sweet Jesus Christ, it's hard to bear.


Admittedly a bit far from the festivity of the more usual Christmas songs, but not far at all from the traditional charity associated with this time of the year.

The word "wassail" probably descends from an anglo-saxon "Wæs hal!"--which roughly translates as "be healthy" and resembles the more modern "to your health." (Hopefully I didn't muck that up too badly; I'd hate to make our redoubtable Dr. Nokes cringe...) I'm not one of those folks who needs to claim pagan roots for Christmas, though. I love how old it is, I love the centuries of weight of different cultures and traditions and ideas.

So Merry Christmas, my friends. I'm so very glad you're all here. I wish blessings and good health to you and yours in the coming year.





10 comments:

Paprikapink said...

I thought that Wassail was a precursor to current-day Wassup!

I like that song "Santa Baby" but I have so many different versions of it, "Santa Baby, won't you hurry downn my chimney to-ni-i-ight" is the only part I know. I rarely get past the chorus of xmas songs, and never go past the first verse. Your knowledge is comforting, Mac!

Dawno said...

Your post is the best non meme response to a meme I've ever seen. Have you been over to Making Light recently? There's a fun discussion going on about a song set to the tune of Good King Wenceslas. And don't forget to visit Unique's, uh, unique versions, too. :-)

Happy Holidays to all.

leap_b4_ulook said...

Madonna's Santa Baby is my favorite song this year, but I also love anything that Harry Connick Jr. sings. And I love Elvis' Christmas CD, too.

What I wish is that the Dixie Chicks would make a Christmas CD!

Ms M said...

In case I don't get a another chance to wish you seasons greetings while on the move, have a very happy Christmas Mac and all other Stones posters...

Jean Marie said...

Just for you, Mac!!!

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
walking home from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there's no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

She'd been drinkin' too much egg nog,
And we'd begged her not to go.
But she'd left her medication,
so she stumbled out the door into the snow.

When they found her Christmas mornin', at the scene of the attack
there were hoof prints on her forehead, and incriminatin' Claus marks on her back.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer, walkin' home from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there's no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Now we're all so proud of Grandpa, He's been takin' this so well, see him in there watchin' football, drinkin' beer and playin' cards with cousin Belle.

It's not Christmas without Grandma. All the family's dressed in black. And we just can't help but wonder:
You can say there's no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Merry Christmas!!

DD said...

Wow, my favorites are someplace between the ancient solstice songs (were you in a choir?) and the much newer "Santa Baby", I like Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como and most country musicians from more than 10 years ago. (New country music for anything but christmas)Songs like Feliz Navidad, Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, Little Drummer Boy (by Johny Cash)and I'll be home for Christmas. I never remember the words unless the music is playing. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, but especially you Mac.

Ray Wong said...

You and I just had an adventure on my blog... Bwhahahaha.

Jill said...

Adam Sandler's Chanuka song in which he lists all the well-known people who are Jewish, half-Jewish, converts, married to Jews, and confused with Jews. Or confused Jews. Or several of the above. :)

Mac said...

DD, I was in choir all through high school and college. *grin* I loved it. My college choir did a medievel-themed madrigal dinner as a fundraiser, every Christmas. It was fabulous good fun.

Ray Wong said...

One of my fondest memories was singing "O Holy Night" at the annual Christmas Concert in college. I was the soloist. I love that song.