Monday, March 28, 2005

Pace-Eggers and Jolly-Boys

The egg is a powerful symbol of life and renewal in many cultures and societies. Two Easter time calendar traditions in England are Pace Egging and the Pace Egg plays.

"Pace" comes to English through European languages denoting the Easter time (Pascua, Paques, Pasch), but originally derives from a Hebrew word for Passover. Colored eggs were exchanged by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Chinese at their Spring festivals.

In the Pace Egging festivals of England, brightly colored eggs are rolled down a hill in a sort of bowling distance contest. Traditionally the eggs were colored with herbal dyes, or wrapped in onion skin and boiled. The old custom is said to commemorate the rolling away of the stone sealing Christ's tomb. In some English towns oranges are rolled instead of eggs, since they roll betterfartherfaster. Perhaps the most famous of these celebrations occurs today, Easter Monday in Averham Park in Preston, Lancashire. This link leads to a webpage that lists many other similar festivals in Lancashire.

In another old Lancashire custom Pace-Eggers, or Jolly-Boys, went door to door begging for eggs or money. They wore fantastic or outlandish dress such as animal skins or went covered in tattered cloth strips. One is reminded of Hallowe'en in the United States.
"Heres one, two, three Jolly Boys, all in one mind.
We have come pace-egging and I hope you'll prove kind.
And we hope you prove kind, with your eggs and strong beer,
And we'll come no more nigh you until the next year."
he Pace Egg plays are more or less street theater, and are related to the Mummers plays, in that they involve a death and rebirth, where a hero (usually St. George, who slew the dragon) is killed by a villain and then brought back to life, thus vanquishing Death and restoring the world's order. The Lancashire Pace Egg Play tradition is the subject of a recent book.

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