Archive for December 18, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Holly and the Ivy

Detail of a holly from The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn Juvenile ivy growing in Bonnefont Garden Red-berried holly and black-fruited ivy

Above, from left to right: Detail of holly from The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn; juvenile holly growing in Bonnefont Garden; red-berried holly and black-fruited ivy.

Holy stond in the hall
Faire to behold:
Ivy stond without the dore—
She is ful sore acold.

Holy and his mery men
They daunsen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidenes
They wepen and they wring.

—Fifteenth-century carol, Reginald Thorne Davies, Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, 1972.

A group of English carols set down in the fifteenth century preserves evidence of a ritual contest between boys bearing branches of holly and girls bearing ivy. The red-berried holly, symbolizing light, warmth, and light, was meant to prevail over the black-fruited ivy, which signified the dark and cold of winter. Thus, ivy remained outside the door while holly was carried triumphantly into the hall. Read more »