Day 16: I Saw Three Ships

We’re back to Jolly Old today, more specifically, St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The choir has been singing for 660 years although it is thought that there has been some chorister turnover during that time.

I Saw Three Ships belongs to that deliciously bizarre category of Christmas songs that seemed to have appeared from the ether for no particular reason. The author of the text or music is unknown as the general time of its appearance in the Christmas canon. It is quite likely that the music enjoyed a former life as a bawdy song of some sort and while the tune is catchy, the reason the uninspired text has survived this long is rather baffling.

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas Day in the morning?

The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice again,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Then let us all rejoice again,
On Christmas Day in the morning

To sum up:
Three ships arrived in the harbour on Christmas morning with Jesus and Mary on board but that was just a pit stop on their way to Bethlehem. Despite the fact that Bethlehem is 80km from the sea or 14 hours walk up into the mountains the Holy Family manages to make the journey there before lunch. Everybody, even the angels, is happy to have discovered this hole in the space/time continuum and whoops it up.

Hey, if a fat guy in a red velvet suit can fit down Miss Mussel’s chimney, anything is possible.

2 comments

  1. Miss Mussel
    Author

    It turns out that the text is not uninspired but rather some sort of elaborate code using metaphors and things.

    Reader Jesse illuminates:

    “Ah. What you are witnessing is a historical record of Christendom. Still, it takes some unpacking.

    Christ is the cargo of this voyage, present in Mary. The tune is 14th century, the text 15th century – previously one recording the voyage of 3 kings carrying gold, frankinsence, and myrrh, on their way to greet (get this) the Christ child at the cathedral in in Cologne.

    In this particular ditty, the image of the trinity replaced the three kings, and Mary and child replaced the gifts.

    This is contextual theology at work. While we’re on the topic, allow me to present another fascinating juxtaposition in the text of one of my favourite carols. Consider the accuracy of this text, which captures the event of Jesus’ birth in the desert:

    See, amid the winter’s snow,
    Born for us on Earth below,
    See, the tender Lamb appears,… See More
    Promised from eternal years.

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