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Funny Jokes? Charades? Wild Dancing? Silly Games?  Feeling Foolish?

People have always used winter holidays to set seriousness aside and act silly. Games like “Peanut Butter” and Egyptian Rat Spit; Trivial Pursuit and Outburst, along with charades and jokes and dancing all over the house are ways to cast care to the winds and revive the children within us. Purim, Holi, Hanukkah, and Christmas are all religious observances laced with the ludic.

Or, as Gilbert and Sullivan put it in The Gondoliers,

Try we life-long, we can never

Straighten out life’s tangled skein,

Why should we, in vain endeavor

Guess and guess and guess again?

Life’s a pudding full of plums,

Care’s a canker that benumbs….

                    Set aside the dull enigma…Dance we to another tune!

joker-28850__180Long ago, before there was electricity or television or radio,  whole villages lightened the midwinter gloom by throwing themselves into  games and frolics.  In England, you could hire whole companies of fools to fill your house with music and laughter, all to an energetic kind of gymnastic dancing. I used one of these performances as part of a midwinter scene in The Marshlanders:

The kitchen door was flung opened and a procession marched into the hall. This year it was led by Foxy, sporting a red bow around his neck and bells jingling on his feet. Behind him pranced four little folk, not as tall as Clare but, she thought, adults full grown. How could that be? They were dressed in bright green tights, red tunics, and a headgear of red and green shaped like pointed horns tipped with bells that jiggled and jangled this way and that as the Fools flew through the air. Like Foxy, they wore bells on their ankles, and their leaping feet were bare. Behind them came musicians playing flutes and drums.

As the Fools’ began their frolic Foxy ran over to Clare and buried his nose in her lap. He had never liked flutes, and the Fools had frightened him out of his wits when they had dressed him up with an undignified bow and aggravating anklets. Clare hugged him tightly as they leaped in the air, bells chiming, to a rollicking of flutes, then somersaulted to the roll of the drums. It was an astounding performance of cartwheels and walking on hands, splits and leaps and double somersaults front and backwards, beyond what any of the apprentices had ever dared, and all precisely timed to the music.

The frolicking Fools and the feast and the music and the joyous dancing served to shoulder the wheel of the year and nudge it forward.”

The Marshlanders




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