The Holly and the Ivy

This week’s theme is The Holly and the Ivy – which is about as seasonal as I get!

The pairing of these evergreens is traditional in Christmas decorations since, at least, the fifteenth century as is celebrated in the carol of that name.  The carol uses the plants as Christian symbolism but to me it feels a bit grafted on and it did not surprise me to learn that an earlier ballad uses the holly and the ivy as symbols of man and woman.

It is a lovely song, in any event, and here is a great version by Annie Lennox.

What is surprising is that the natural world also pairs these evergreens in the shape of the holly blue butterfly which has alternate generations, the caterpillers of one feed on holly, the next generation on Ivy.

By Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0,

When it comes to literature Holly gives us a chance to look at Hollie MacNish,  whose poetry and other writings have made a real impact over the last few years, especially her memoir about motherhood, Nobody Told Me.  The expression, “warts and all” is a bit of a cliché but it really fits, Nobody Told Me. Perhaps “puke and all” puts it better.

Her poetry is copyright so I won’t reproduce it but take a look at her Hollie Poetry website

And here she is on Youtube

As for Ivy, you can’t have Christmas without a bit of Dickens. Sometimes great novelists make very indifferent poets (I’m looking at you, Jane Austen!) but I think that this is rather good.

The Ivy Green – Charles Dickens

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!
And slily he traileth along the ground,
And his leaves he gently waves,
As he joyously hugs and crawleth round
The rich mould of dead men’s graves.
Creeping where grim death has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Whole ages have fled and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,
From its hale and hearty green.
The brave old plant, in its lonely days,
Shall fatten upon the past:
For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

2 thoughts on “The Holly and the Ivy

  1. The Holly and the Ivy

    by Urszula

    The holly and the ivy is a well known Christmas carol
    The holly represents Jesus and
    The ivy represents His mother Mary
    Sometimes wreaths of these plants can be seen
    Attached to front doors at Christmas

    In the Polish tradition Christmas trees are decorated
    With baubles lights and sometimes candles
    On Christmas Eve and the lights and candles will be lit
    As soon as the first star is seen.
    There will have been fasting in the day
    Then a twelve course meatless dinner served
    Several fish dishes usually carp
    Traditionally there may be some straw under the tablecloth
    Symbolizing the manger

    At the beginning of the meal people exchange little bits of wafer
    And best wishes for the coming year
    During the meal St Nicholas or the Star man
    Will have deposited gifts under the Christmas tree
    Then the family and guests will enjoy some carol signing

    Eventually the gifts are handed out
    Sometimes by St Nicholas or Santa
    And a general relaxation ensues
    Finally people go to midnight mass

    In Nottingham we found a small holly bush growing in the garden
    Presumably seeded by a bird
    We brought it up here to Lewis
    It took root but is growing very slowly,
    Hardly at all
    I hope it grows bigger in memory of my husband
    One day I might be able to make a holly wreath from it

    Ivy seems to grow up trees or old house walls
    The foliage forming an attractive cover
    On flat ground
    It grows well and spreads quickly


  2. Thanks, Urszula. Great that you brought that holly up here. It does grow slowly, even further south.

    I got a little holly tree for Christmas from some friends last year. Let’s hope that both our holly trees thrive



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