Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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CHAPTER XIII
MASKING, THE MUMMERS' PLAY, THE FEAST OF FOOLS, AND THE BOY BISHOP
English Court Masking—"The Lord of Misrule"—The Mummers' Play, the Sv.
Dance, and the Morris Dance—Origin of St. George and other Characters— Mumming in Eastern Europe—The Feast of Fools, its History and Suppression— The Boy Bishop, his Functions and Sermons—Modern Survivals of the Boy Bishop.
We have already seen a good deal of masking in connection with St. Nicholas, Knecht Ruprecht, and other figures of the German Christmas ; we may next give some attention to English customs of the same sort during the Twelve Days, and then pass on to the strange burlesque ceremonies of the Feast of Fools and the Boy Bishop, ceremonies which show an intrusion of pagan mummery into the sanctuary itself.
Christmas Masking.
The custom of Christmas masking, "mumming," or "dis­guising " can be traced at the English court as early as the reign of Edward III. It is in all probability connected with that wearinp-of beasts' heads and skins ot which we have alreadv noted various examples—its origin in folk-custom seems to have been the coming of a band of worshippers clad in this uncouth but auspicious garb to bring good luck to a house.1 The most direct English survival is found in the village mummers who still call themselves "guisers " or " geese-dancers" and claim the right to enter every house. These will be dealt with shortly, after a con­sideration of more courtly customs of the same kind.
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