Folk Notes 3 - I Saw Three Ships

August 9, 2017

I Saw Three Ships

 

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.

 

"I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)" is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. The earliest printed version of "I Saw Three Ships" is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William Sandys in 1833.

 

The lyrics mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles (32 km) away. The reference to three ships is thought to originate in the three ships that bore the purported relics of the Biblical magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Another possible reference is to Wenceslaus II, King of Bohemia, who bore a coat of arms "Azure three galleys argent". Another suggestion is that the ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as "ships of the desert".

 

 

 

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