Music Thursday: Annie Lennox “The Holly and the Ivy”

Because Monday is already taken. This column will feature music I listen to when I write, or maybe sometimes music I just like (and therefore think everyone else should, too).

So apparently, Annie Lennox has a Christmas Album. I did not know this. This song is on it:

In folklore, I am fascinated by the interplay between the culture of pre-Christian and Christian Europe. The early Church may have appropriated pagan rituals and symbols in order to gain converts, but on the flip side, those pagans also borrowed from the Church in order to keep their own traditions alive.

There is no other Christmas song where the pagan symbolism is closer to the surface that “The Holly and the Ivy.” Though it only dates definitively back to the early nineteenth century, its origins may be older. The symbolism in the song is distinctly Christian, but the two plants together had significant meaning for the pre-Christian culture of the British Isles.

Holly and Ivy are both evergreen, and thus came to represent eternal life. Because they stood out in the winter landscape, they gained importance in rituals around the winter solstice. Druids wore crowns of intertwined holly and ivy. Also, both holly and ivy were sacred to the Roman god Saturn, whose feast, Saturnalia, was celebrated in December.

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