The Holly and the Ivy
An evergreen Christmas assembly
by Revd Alan M. Barker (revised, originally published in 2008)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To reflect upon the significance of holly within Christian and other traditions.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the carol ‘The holly and the ivy’ and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. A version with music and lyrics displayed is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgzgmEJoCSw (3.31 minutes long)
- You will also need to display the lyrics separately during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. A version is available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9a3j2jd
- Have available a sprig of holly and some examples of holly in Christmas design. If you prefer to use images of holly, in which case you will also need the means to display them, examples could include:
- a holly bush, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9xoelpe
- holly wreaths, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9zf2brp and https://tinyurl.com/ybx6msfp
- a holly wreath round a candle, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yc3kh9nn
- a Christmas card, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ybajw9h9
- Christmas pudding, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7xfdeqw
- Before the assembly, you will also need some green paper or card to cut out 12 large holly leaves, print out the facts in the ‘Assembly’, Step 5, and attach them to the holly leaves.
- Play the carol ‘The holly and the ivy’ as everyone enters.
Welcome the children and ask, ‘What would Christmas be without a sprig of holly?’
Reflect that holly leaves are very much a sign of the season, used in the design of Christmas cards and wrapping paper, and for decorating homes, churches and traditionally, the Christmas pudding.
- The holly tree, with its red berries, cheers us all up in the middle of winter. It’s often found growing in gardens and parks. Does any grow near the school?
- You can recognize holly by its evergreen (explain the term), prickly leaves. Hold up the 12 large paper holly leaves and ask 12 children to come to the front and hold them up so that everyone can see them.
- Explain that the holly bush is very special; many traditions and beliefs are linked to it. Point out that the children holding the leaves are each holding a fact or tradition associated with holly.
- Ask the 12 children to take it in turns to read out the fact on their holly leaf (help them if necessary).
- As long ago as Roman times, holly was thought to bring good luck.
- During midwinter feasts, holly was used to decorate homes, and boughs of holly were exchanged as symbols of kindness and friendship.
- Some people used to believe that a holly tree planted near a house would keep away evil spells and protect it from lightning.
- The prickly holly leaf is said to drive away enemies and witches. Perhaps this explains why holly is used in the wreaths hung on front doors as a sign of welcome.
- Holly is a tree to be respected. Centuries ago, monks called it the ‘holy tree’. Cutting down a holly tree is said to bring bad luck.
- Another ancient country name for holly was ‘prickly Christmas’.
- Holly is also known as ‘Christ thorn’. The prickles are a symbol of Jesus’ crown of thorns, worn as he suffered on the cross.
- Holly leaves that grow out of the reach of grazing animals are often smoother.
- Never eat holly berries: they’ll make you sick! In Christian tradition, the bright-red berries symbolize the drops of Christ’s blood.
- Holly wood is very hard and white. You can use it to carve the white pieces of a chess set.
- Not every holly bush produces berries, only the female ones. However, both male and female trees have small white flowers in May and June.
- In Christmas celebrations, the evergreen leaves are a sign of eternal life. They stay bright and green throughout the year.
Time for reflection
Show the lyrics for the carol ‘The holly and the ivy’.
Explain that it is an old folksong, possibly from Gloucestershire or Somerset, and it is meant to be sung with energy.
Play the carol ‘The holly and the ivy’, inviting the children to join in.
In quietness, we are thankful for Christmas traditions,
For the mysterious beauty of holly
And for our capacity to celebrate with joy,
Even in the dark and difficult days of winter.
‘The holly and the ivy’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgzgmEJoCSw