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Cherry Tree Carol, The

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Place Collected: Chipping Campden
Date collected: 1909 (13 Jan)
Collector: Sharp, Cecil
Roud Number: 453
Other Numbers: Child 54

The story comes under the heading of Apocryphal Carols and is derived from the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which combines many earlier apocryphal Nativity traditions; however, in Pseudo-Matthew, the event takes place during the flight into Egypt, and the fruit tree is a palm tree (presumably a date palm) and not a cherry tree. In the apocryphal Gospel, Jesus has already been born and so Joseph’s truculence is unrelated to any dismay over Mary’s pregnancy, but has to do with an inability to reach the fruits of the palm and a concern over the family’s lack of water. [Note from Francis James Child – English and Scottish Popular Ballads]. The story also appears in the N-Town plays (about 1470), formerly thought to be the Coventry Mystery Plays of the 16th Century. For more information see: Charles Menteith, The Cherry Tree Carol, part 1 FTJ 67 pp 6-7 and parts 2 & 3 FTJ 68 pp8-11: Scroll down, until you find the issue, and click on Download for a pdf copy.

The story has long retained a fascination for generations of singers and collected versions have appeared in many places in the English-speaking world.

Notes by Gwilym Davies and Charles Menteith