Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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MUMMERS' PLAYS
George play is performed at Easter, a date alluded to in the title,
" Pace-eggers'" or " Pasque-eggers' " play.x3
Two grotesque figures appear with varying degrees of deal (less
and with various names in the dances and in the plays__the
"fool" (Tommy) who wears the skin and tail of a fox or othei animal, and a man dressed in woman's clothes (Bessy). In these we may recognize the skin-clad mummer and the man aping a woman whom we meet in the old Kalends denunciations. Some­times the two are combined, while a hobby-horse also not unfrequently appears.*4
How exactly St. George came to be the central figure of the Christmas plays is uncertain ; possibly they may be a develop­ment of a dance in which appeared the "Seven Champions," the English national heroes—of whom Richard Johnson wrote a history in 1596—with St. George at their head. It is more probable, however, that the saint came in from the mediaeval pageants held on his day in many English towns.J5
Can it be that the German St. Nicholas plays are more Christianized and sophisticated forms of folk-dramas like in origin to those we have been discussing ? They certainly resemble the English plays in the manner in which one actor calls in another by name; while the grotesque figures introduced have some like­ness to the " fool " of the morris.
Christmas mumming, it may be added, is found in eastern as well as western Europe. In Greece, where ecclesiastical con­demnations of such things can be traced with remarkable clearness from early times to the twelfth century, it takes sundry forms. " At Pharsala," writes Mr. J. C. Lawson, " there is a sort of pla) at the Epiphany, in which the mummers represent bride, bride­groom, and * Arab' ; the Arab tries to carry off the bride, and the bridegroom defends her. . . . Formerly also at ' Kozane and in many other parts of Greece,' according to a Greek writer in the early part of the nineteenth century, throughout the Twelve Days boys carrying bells used to go round the houses, sin-songs and having 'one or more of their company dressed up with masks and bells and foxes' brushes and other such things to g them a weird and monstrous look.'" l6
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