King Pharaoh
Gypsy Christmas Carol
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

This gypsy Christmas Carol was sung to Lucy Broadwood in Sussex and Surrey by a gypsy named Goby in 1893. These lyrics are the original version which appears in her collection English Traditional Songs and Carols (1908).

Broadwood relates the ballad to Child ballas, St. Stephen and Herod and Carnal and the Crane. A manuscript of St. Stephen and Herod is "judge to be of the time of Henry VI." That ballad tells of ST. Sephen, the dish-bearer to King Herod, who, upon seeing the Star of Bethlehem, says that Christ is born. King Herod replies that is as unlikely as the chicken in his dish would rise up and crow - which it then does. The legend appears throughout Europe and is ancient.

The Carnal and the Crane appears in broadsides in the middle of the eighteenth century. The carnal refers to a crow. In a similar tale the crane tells the story of Christs' birth to the crow, relating how the wise men tried to convince Herod Christ was born by the miracle of a roasted bird, which rose fully feathered from the dish.

Gypsies substituted Pharoah for Herod. Since the first appearanc of Gypsies in Europe (around the fifteenth century), the Church spread the legend that the Gypsies came out of Egypt and were cursed becaue they refused to accept the Virgin and Christ. According to Broadwood, Gypsies came to believe they were orginally from Egypt and recognized the pharoah as their former king.

King Pharim sat a-musing,
A musing all alone;
There came a blessed Saviour,
And all to him unknown.

Say, where did you come from, good man,
Oh, where did you then pass?
It is out of the land Egypt,
Between an ox and an ass.

Oh, if you come out of Egypt, man,
One thing I fain I known,
Whether a blessed Virgin Mary
Sprung from an Holy Ghost?

For if this is true, is true, good man,
That you ve been telling to me,
That the roasted cock do crow three times
In the place where they did stand.

Oh, it's straight away the cock did fetch,
And feathered to your own hand,
Three times a roasted cock did crow,
On the place where they did stand.

Joseph, Jesus and Mary
Were travelling for the west,
When Mary grew a-tired
She might sit down and rest.

They travelled further and further,
The weather being so warm,
Till they came unto some husbandman
A-sowing of his corn.

Come husbandman! cried Jesus,
From over speed and pride,
And carry home your ripened corn
That you've been sowing this day.

For to keep your wife and family
From sorrow, grief and pain,
And keep Christ in your remembrance
Till the time comes round again!'

Related Links
From English Traditional Songs and Carols
See Bibliography for full information.