Traditional Irish Christmas Folk Music: “Greensleeves”

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Greensleeves is a traditional Irish Christmas folk music song about the winter season.

Introduction to “Greensleeves”

“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folk song and Christmas carol. The melody is thought to be English in origin, and it may date back to the sixteenth century. “Greensleeves” was first published in print in 1580, making it one of the oldest surviving English folk songs. It is uncertain who wrote the lyrics, which describe a woman dressed in green who has rejected the singer’s advances.

The song was popularized by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on Greensleeves (1928), and it has been recorded by many artists over the years. “Greensleeves” remains a popular Christmas carol in England, and it has been adapted into other holiday songs such as “What Child Is This?” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

History of the song

“Greensleeves” is a traditional English folk song and tune, over 400 years old. The melody commonly associated with the song was not printed until 1820, in Willis’s Collection of Twenty Four Country Dances, vol. 6.

The melody Greensleeves has been associated with Christmas since the 1600s, when it was printed in Pammelia, Musickes Miscellanie (London, 1609). It was included in several other early collections of Christmas music from England and America. In some cases it was called “an old Christmas carol,” but more often it was simply listed as a popular song or ballad.

Lyrics of “Greensleeves”

What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The meaning of “Greensleeves”

The melody of “Greensleeves” is found in a number of historical sources and it is plausible that it was composed by Henry VIII himself. It became popular in England and elsewhere following the publication of Thomas Ravenscroft’s Melismata in 1611, and continues to be widely performed and recorded today. The existence of an English Melismata version, which contains some subtle differences from the one usually played today, demonstrates that “Greensleeves” was being continuously refined in theGenerationeteenth century.

The melody of “Greensleeves” is extremely popular and has been adapted extensively. It has been used as the basis for many works, including:

* The traditional English carol “What Child Is This?”
* The Christmas hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
* The German Christmas carol “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her”
* The American folk song “Go Tell It on the Mountain”
* The jazz standard “Body and Soul”
* George Gershwin’s “Summertime”

“Greensleeves” has been popular in many cultures over the years. In the English-speaking world, it was first recorded by Glenn Miller in 1939. In 1941, it was used as an instrumental theme for the movie “Sun Valley Serenade”. The Canadians Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks recorded it in 1963. In 1968, “Greensleeves” was included on The Beatles’ self-titled double album (also known as the “White Album”). It has also been used in numerous commercials, TV shows and movies, including “The Tudors”, “The Omen”, “Cocoon” and “The Holiday”.

Similar Posts