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Traditional Easter Games

This is an ancient custom which is currently being brought back into fashion. The word 'Pace' derives from the Latin word 'Pacha' which means 'Easter'. This Easter custom is Lancastrian (UK) and traditionally performed by a group of men called the 'Pace-eggers' or ‘Jolly-boys’ and is very similar to traditions connected with Morris Dancing and Mumming which is found to still be very active in folk festivals in England (UK) and parts of Europe (See Mystical WWW Arts : Dance, Morris and Mystical WWW Folk Calendar). Pace-egging is thought to relate to the ancient Mumming (See Mystical WWW Arts : Drama, Mumming) Plays (which were also performed at Christmas in different parts of the country). Each man would adorn himself with brightly coloured ribbons, animal skins, rags and strips of paper, the reason for which appears to relate back to The Crusades (See Mystical WWW Arts : Dance, Morris). One of the men should blacken his face with coal or soot, and carry a woven basket on his arm. The group of men then begin to process through the village/area and whilst enjoying celebrating the Easter revelries with the community, the idea is that he and his merry fellows goad the people into tossing eggs into the basket (although money may be used as a substitute). The eggs were often wrapped in onion skin and boiled to give a mottled effect, being eaten for Easter breakfast on Easter Sunday. The blackened face male is traditionally known as the 'Old Tosspot'. Other characters included the 'Lady Gay', the 'Soldier Brave', and the 'Noble Youth'. The Old Tosspot carried a long straw tail that had been stuffed full of pins. He would swing it wildly about, acting as though he was drunk, and wait for some poor unsuspecting fool to try and catch hold of the tail or be tapped by it - all in good humour - but also to encourage people to toss things into his basket. When the Pace-eggers received either sufficient money or eggs in the basket, the group would temporarily stop and present a short play and dance. Usually an additional reward for the presentation would be given to the group by a member of the public, such as a glass of beer if performing outside a public house. Once the play was completed and everyone satisfied the group would process on through the area until the entire village had been travelled. Normally the Pace-eggers would attract quite a large group of followers by the end of their promenade as each presentation was sure to be different and perhaps build upon the last.

‘Here’s one or two jolly boys all of one mind
We’ve come a-pace-egging, I hope you’ll prove kind
I hope you’ll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more nigh you until next year.’

Meeting a rival band of Pace-eggers could lead to a lot of competitive friendly exchanges or 'egging', with the passing of witty jibes between the groups with occasional attempts made to steal the eggs. Perhaps this is where the expression 'to egg someone on' originated from. Sometimes the groups would also have wooden swords that could also be used to poke friendly fun at the rival group. The sword is said in England to relate to St. George who is traditionally seen as protector of justice (See Mystical WWW Arts : Dance, Morris). It has been known for Pace-eggers to walk away with a couple of scratches when the exchanges have become a little too over-enthusiastic as you might expect! Today Pace-egging is still common place in some communities.

It was believed that the sun danced on Easter Day as detailed in the following:

‘But oh, she dances such a way,
No sun upon an Easter day
Is half so fine a sight.’

The sun was said to dance at the joy of the Resurrection. The practice of early morning services on this day were common often at sunrise itself. The first recorded service in the USA at an Easter sunrise is identified as having taken place at Cadillac Mountain, Maine.