“The Holly and the Ivy” is an English traditional Christmas carol whose text features imagery from both pagan and Christian beliefs. By ancient tradition, holly was considered a masculine symbol while ivy was feminine; and in the lyrics of the carol each characteristic of the holly is symbolic of Jesus. The holly’s lily-white flower = Jesus’ purity; its red berry = Jesus’ blood or humanity; its prickle = Jesus’ crown of thorns or suffering; its bitter bark = the bitter drink Jesus was offered on the cross, or the bitter cup he drank in taking upon himself the sins of the world.
The tune on which this arrangement is based was collected and published by the English musicologist Cecil J. Sharp in English Folk-Carols (1911).