Wednesday 9 December 2015

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In

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.

This 16th Century English carol talks about three ships that came sailing into Bethlehem on Christmas Day.  However, the closest body of water to the birthplace of Jesus was 20 miles away (the Dead Sea).  It is suspected, therefore, that the three ships refer to three vessels carrying relics of the three wise men to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th Century.  

Another interpretation suggests that the three ships refer to King Wenceslaus of Bohemia sho bore the coat of arms "Azure three galleys argent".  King Wenceslaus is mentioned of course in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.  

A third interpretation points to the three camels that the three wise men road through the desert following the Star in the East to Bethelehem where they presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.

The parent tune for the hymn is "Greensleeves".  The first printed version of the carol appeared in the 17th Century.  It was published by Willliam Sandys in 1833.  Nat King Cole recorded the carol in 1960 on his album The Magic of Christmas (

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