Two Christmas Carols

You will never hear these carols playing in the mall, or in the elevator.  Tony Bennet, Dolly Pardon and I am sure that Pat Boone nor the Chipmunks,  never sang a version of either one.  Who sang the Christmas Tree Carol and Soalin?  Well, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, my ex-husband and many other folk singers. Both songs capture two qualities of Christmas:  the rather unspoken bothersome aspect of the Immaculate Conception, and the true reason for giving, it’s winter and people are going hungry (not the magi).   One deals with the rather untold bothersome aspect of the Immaculate Conception, the other is about giving.   Sorry, no reindeer in either one.

The Christmas Tree Carol

The story of the carol, according to Wikipedia,(by the way did you make a contribution for this year yet) is from the apocryphal gospels.  You see, there was a whole side of the baby and child Jesus that was rather suppressed.  It was a playful and a rather pesky side that really upset those in authority.  Imagine being the Christ child with all these powers, of course you got to use them from time to time.  The adopted gospels, the ones we know of, exclude the passages that portrayed Christ as a pesky child.

This is an English carol from the 1400’s, usually played on Corpus Christi, the feast celebrating the eucharist.  As Joseph and Mary were going to Bethlehem for the census, they walked through a cherry orchard, now this is the point where the whole Christmas in December would fall apart, cherries blossom in the spring, early spring.  So, it could be that the tree was a palm tree with dates, there are gorgeous dates in the Holy Lands.

The song is thought to be a combination of three different carols and is based on the Gospel of Pseudo Mathew, Chapter 20.

First, I think the melody is magical.  Particularly when sung by a man accompanied by a guitar.  My ex-husband I still think had the best rendition.  He would sing it always at Christmas before we had children and after we had children.  But, the Chad Mitchell Trio version is second best.   Here is a simple version, sung by a group of nuns.  I prefer the amateur versions.  Sting, Judy Collins and Joan Baez have versions, but I don’t quite like them as much as the simple version of the a capella voices.

Here are the lyrics:

54A.1	JOSEPH was an old man,
	and an old man was he,
	When he wedded Mary,
	in the land of Galilee.
54A.2	Joseph and Mary walked
	through an orchard good,
	Where was cherries and berries,
	so red as any blood.
54A.3	Joseph and Mary walked
	through an orchard green,
	Where was berries and cherries,
	as thick as might be seen.
54A.4	O then bespoke Mary,
	so meek and so mild:
	‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
	for I am with child.’
54A.5	O then bespoke Joseph,
	with words most unkind:
	‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
	that brought thee with child.’
54A.6	O then bespoke the babe,
	within his mother’s womb:
	‘Bow down then the tallest tree,
	for my mother to have some.’
54A.7	Then bowed down the highest tree
	unto his mother’s hand;
	Then she cried, See, Joseph,
	I have cherries at command.
54A.8	O then bespake Joseph:
	‘I have done Mary wrong;
	But cheer up, my dearest,
	and be not cast down.’
54A.9	Then Mary plucked a cherry,
	as red as the blood,
	Then Mary went home
	with her heavy load.
54A.10	Then Mary took her babe,
	and sat him on her knee,
	Saying, My dear son, tell me
	what this world will be.
54A.11	‘O I shall be as dead, mother,
	as the stones in the wall;
	O the stones in the streets, mother,
	shall mourn for me all.
54A.12	‘Upon Easter-day, mother,
	my uprising shall be;
	O the sun and the moon, mother,
	shall both rise with me.’

Joseph, was rather peeved at Mary, something we do not encounter in other stories of Christmas.  He tells her, “heh, let the father of the baby get you the cherries”.  Then baby Jesus, in the womb, orders the tree to bow down.  I find this fascinating.  First, the humanity of Joseph, then the Mary getting her side protected by the super powers of the baby.  Take that Joseph.  I am sure there was lots of talk and chatter.  After all, Joseph, the song tells us, was an old man, and Mary was young.


I think originally Soalin was for All Souls day, sort of a trick or treating song.    A traditional song, arranged  to Paul Stookey, of Peter Paul and Mary.   I particularly love the chorus. It could also be from the Celtic tradition of making cakes for the dead for the new year.  This song captures the idea of sharing your food in winter time.  Those who had cellars to keep foods, would be beseeched via song to share a bit of the treasures from the spring and summer.

Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none

Yet shall we be merry, hey ho, nobody home.

Hey ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none

Yet shall we be merry, hey ho, nobody home.

Hey ho, nobody home.


Soul, a soul, a soul cake, please good missus a soul cake.

An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,

any good thing to make us all merry,

One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all.

God bless the master of this house, and the mistress also

And all the little children that round your table grow.

The cattle in your stable and the dog by your front door

And all that dwell within your gates

we wish you ten times more.

Chorus (1x)

Go down into the cellar and see what you can find

If the barrels are not empty we hope you will be kind.

We hope you will be kind with your apple and strawber’

For we’ll come no more a ‘soulin’ till this time next year.

Chorus (1x)

The streets are very dirty,

my shoes are very thin.

I have a little pocket to put a penny in.

If you haven’t got a penny, a halve penny will do.

If you haven’t got a halve penny then God bless you.

Chorus (1x)

Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace.

This holy tide of Christmas of beauty and of grace,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy.



Excuse me while I go back to my Burl Ives, Christmas collection.  He was a dastardly right winger, but he does have a great CD.

By the way,, is the go to site for all your Christmas CD wishes.




2 thoughts on “Two Christmas Carols

  1. My favorite Christmas album is The Bells Of Dublin by the Cheiftans and my favorite song is The Wren medley. Tradition was, on St Stephen’s day, Wren Boys would hunt down and kill wrens and then beg money to bury the bodies. It is a pagan tradition (wren represents the old year) still in place but today they hunt for a fake wren and spare the live ones. (I truly love all the songs on the album – lots of features incl. elvis costello, ricky lee jones, nancy griffith)


    The wren, oh, the wren, he’s the king of all birds.
    On St Steven’s Day, he got caught in the furze,
    So it’s up with the kettle and it’s down with the pan.
    Won’t you give me a penny for to bury the wren?

    Oh, it’s Christmas time; that’s why we’re here.
    Please be good enough to give us an ear,
    For we’ll sing and we’ll dance if you give us a chance,
    And we won’t be comin’ back for another whole year.

    We’ll play Kerry polkas; they’re real hot stuff.
    We’ll play The Mason’s Apron and The Pinch of Snuff,
    Jon Maroney’s Jig and The Donegal Reel,
    Music made to put a spring in your heel.

    If there’s a drink in the house, may it make itself known,
    Before I sing a song called The Banks of the Lowne,
    And I’ll drink with you with occasion in it,
    For my poor dry throat and I’ll sing like a linnet.

    Oh, please give us something for the little bird’s wake,
    A big lump of pudding or some Christmas cake,
    A fist full o’ goose and a hot cup o’ tay (tea)
    And then we’ll soon be going on our way.

    my other fav xmas album is the Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s