Thank you, Liza, for your kind offer to help me celebrate the release of my new book Christmas Carols, published by Liquid Silver Books on the 10th of August.
I know readers might think it a little odd to be thinking about Christmas in August but in Victorian England, where my story is set, people were used to starting their Christmas preparations early. In Christmas Carols the choir has been rehearsing for some time in readiness for a Christmas Concert.
One of the delights of Christmas is listening to and singing Christmas Carols and the carol The Holly and the Ivy appears in the story. Here is a link so you can listen to this lovely ancient carol.
When I was researching for the story I discovered the carol the Holly and the Ivy dates back a very long time. Holly and ivy were used for Yule decorations long before Christmas was introduced as a winter festival. Both plants were brought into the house during Yule to offer the promise of new growth to come and show not all things succumbed to the cold. The Romans used the plants to celebrate Saturnalia, a mid-winter celebration. Holly was considered sacred to the god Saturn. This feast was celebrated throughout the Roman world.
In Europe the Druids held Holly and Mistletoe as sacred and both plants were used in the rites of the midwinter solstice.
Although early Christianity changed many of the old ways, Holly and Ivy remained popular for decorating houses, even Mistletoe found its way into the indoors as a reminder of the gifts of the sun.
Henry VIII of England used the imagery of the Holly and Ivy resisting the worst the winter could throw at them in his love song, Green grows the Holly. The weather could batter them but they didn’t change their hue. His idea was he would prove the same, forever faithful to his lady. Nice song, shame about the rest of his story.
The carol we know as the Holly and the Ivy may well have roots in the ancient past where singing competitions were held in local communities as winter entertainments. This song is one which might well have been a male versus female song, sung by opposing singers. Holly was associated as masculine, while the ivy was considered feminine. Each set of singers would respond to the last verse of the opposition and the chorus may have been a joint effort. The male singers would praise the Holly while the female singers spoke of the strength of the Ivy.
Sadly, much of this idea is supposition, as we simply don’t know and the tune the words were sung to. I am certain it would have been different to the one we are familiar with today.
The carol in its current format appeared in a broadside publication dated 1710, which is the first written example of it. In the nineteenth century, it appeared in a collection of carols edited by Joshua Sylvester, and its popularity among Victorian choristers grew.
With such an interesting history to it I have to say this is one of my favorite Christmas Carols and I enjoyed using it in the story. You will see from the excerpt below Alice found deciding to sing it a difficult experience.
“Where do you sing, ma’am?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Sing? You know, lift your voice to the glorious accompaniment of music. You must
be a member of a choir or choral group?”
“No, sir. I no longer sing, except with the congregation on Sunday. It’s not seemly for a widow to sing.”
“I disagree. You know we have a choir here?”
“Yes, of course I know.”
“They meet at six each Thursday evening. That is tonight. You would be welcome among them I am sure.”
He stood with his head cocked to one side, as she’d often seen him. “I don’t think it would be right, Mr. Grafton.”
“I shall be considered presumptive but I wish to ask, how long have you been widowed, Mrs. Broadbrace?”
“Three and a half years. Why do you ask?”
“That’s long enough for such deep grieving in my opinion. More smacks of self-indulgence. I’ll introduce you to the choir this evening.” He turned about and closed the door behind him.
Self-indulgence! She stamped her foot. His lack of manners left her light headed. No flowers in the displays and now this? He was an unfeeling brute. The man might be a gifted organist but he had no finer qualities. She’d never met a man so ungentlemanly in his address. She’d go home immediately. Once home, when she’d recovered her composure, she would write to Mr. Francis and inform him personal circumstances left her no choice but to give up her activities here. She shoved the door open and strode into the nave with her head high, intending to collect her things.
Mr. Grafton sat on the front pew, his legs crossed, and one well-polished shoe on top of the other. He rested a hand on his dog’s head. “Mrs. Broadbrace, are you going somewhere?”
“Yes, home,” she snapped.
“I’d thought better of you than that.” He angled his head further and smiled.
A wave of sensation caught her. He didn’t look glad she’d said she was going. The smile beckoned her to stay. She struggled with the thought he may well think her over-sensitive, prim and old-maidish in her reaction. “I can’t join the choir, sir. It would not be proper. I have not an idea in my head for any possible floral design that does not incorporate flowers. I need to go home.”
“The vicar informed me Mr. Broadbrace died from injuries sustained in battle. If so, your late husband was a brave man who gave his life for his country. Yes?”
She swallowed hard and whispered, “Yes.”
“Then he’d not have relished a cowardly wife.”
“Hear me out, madam.”
“No, I’ll not allow you to insult me further.”
He rose, turned and stepped forward, closer, all the time grasping the back of the pew. “I do not wish to insult you. I think you should find your courage. Life is a short affair and you will live it bitterly if you do not. Would being part of the choir so distress your sensibilities? Why not try just until the Christmas season is over?”
Thankful he’d not see her expression, she gaped.
“Well? There are six weeks until Christmas. The choir will sing during the Advent services, during the service on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day. You could be
part of the community’s preparations for the birth of the Christ child. What do you think of making the attempt?”
She couldn’t articulate all the reasons why she believed to do as he asked would flout propriety and scandalize people. “What would everyone say?”
Stephen Grafton, the blind organist at Holy Trinity Church, is gaining a reputation for his fine playing and compositions. Alice Broadbrace’s initial venture back into society after years in deep mourning brings her to the notice of the talented organist, and he offers her the opportunity to sing a solo carol to his accompaniment. His courage convinces her to find her own, while her charm entices him into thoughts of romance. A difficult walk in a snow storm is only the beginning of Stephen and Alice’s journey to happiness. Enjoy this sweet Victorian tale of talent and love blossoming.
Thanks for reading
Daisy Banks is the author of
Soon to be available with Liquid Silver Books Serving the Serpent
Marked for Magic
A Perfect Match
A Gentleman’s Folly
Your Heart My Soul
A Matter of Some Scandal
Daisy’s books are available here
Daisy Banks writes a regular monthly story in the Sexy to Go compilations.
Attribution for the Holly and ivy ring image.