This is an extremely lovely carol, first published in 1710, apparently in the Cotswalds. It became really popular in Victorian times, when people were wild about medieval stuff, and it was then usually described as an old French carol.  The words bring in the supposed struggle between the male holly and the female ivy, plus the deer and the sun for a good dose of pagan symbolism. If you skip the verses, you can sing this at your Yule gatherings without the embarrassment of religious content.

The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

O the rising of the sun, and the running
Of the deer, the playing
Of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir

You can’t go wrong with this as a song. You can listen to everyone from Nat King Cole to Steeleye Span to Annie Lennox singing this, you can sing it in gorgeous choral arrangements with your friends and family or sing it quietly to yourself as you do your holiday chores. It’s not bad for drunken shouting, for that matter. You can swing your beer flask and holler it out and it still sounds pretty good.

It’s good as an instrumental piece, too. George Winston, Mannheim Steamroller, flute choirs — nobody doesn’t like this tune. If you’re ready to prove me wrong, I have another tune to offer you. This one is, I believe, by Stephen Paulus:

This was pointed out to me by #2 daughter. It’s quite different from the traditional tune. Paulus is a professional composer who is still alive and working. While most carols seem to have been composed by tanners, country parsons, and reclusive female poets, this guy actually writes choral music for a living.