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The holly

Wednesday, 23 December, 2015

On this day last year, with one foot on the dresser and another on the step-ladder, my mother was perched like an Alpine Ibex as she fearlessly ensured that the most important of the Christmas decorations, the holly, was positioned exactly. Despite her 86 years, she insisted on arranging the “sprigs”. Holly has an ancient terminology and “sprig” dates back to the Middle English sprigge, meaning a small twig or stem.

The holly

Green and spiky and adorned with red berries, holly is the perfect Christmas decoration. It is honoured in the “Sans Day Carol,” which was first transcribed from the singing of Thomas Beard, a villager in St Day in the parish of Gwennap in Cornwall.

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died on the cross:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died for us all:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!


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