An Unusual and Murder-y Father Christmas Story


I came across this Dorset mummers’ play while reading The Leaping Hare (for research on my latest writing project), in which Santa murders his wife over….how to cook a hare. Yep. I can’t imagine why we don’t tell this story at Christmas! I unfortunately cannot find the complete play (source is listed as Dorsetshire Folklore by J.S. Udal), but I thought I would share the brief passage from the play in The Leaping Hare.

Enter Old Bet

Here comes I, Dame Dorothy,
A handsome young woman, good morning to ye.
I am rather fat, but not very tall,
I’ll do my best endeavors to please you all.
My husband he is to work, and soon he will return
And something for our supper bring,
And perhaps some wood to burn.
Oh! here he comes!

(Enter Jan or Old Father Christmas)

Old Father Christmas
Oh, Dorothy!

Old Bet
What have you been doing all this long day, Jan?

Old Father Christmas
I’ve been a-hunting, Bet.

Old Bet
The devil a-hunting is it! Is that the way to support a wife? Well, what have you catched today, Jan?

Old Father Christmas
A fine Jack hare, and I intend to have him a-fried for supper; and here’s some wood to dress him.

Old Bet
Fried! No, Jan, I’ll roast it nice.

Old Father Christmas
I say I’ll have it fried!

Old Bet
Was there ever such a foolish dish!

Old Father Christmas
No matter for that, I’ll have it done; and if you don’t do as I bid I’ll hit you in the head.

Old Bet
You may do as you like or all I do care,
I’ll never fry a dry Jack hare.

Old Father Christmas
Oh! you won’t wooll’ee?

(He strikes her and she falls.)

Oh! what have I done! I have murdered my wife!
The joy of my heart and the pride of my life!
And out to the gaol I shall quickly be sent,
In a passion I did it, and no malice meant.

     But the outcome was not as tragic as it appeared: there was magic as well as a hare about; and the Doctor soon put Bet on to her feet again. For this was simply a rehearsal of the old symbolic ritual, celebrating the eternal cycle of life when the death of winter is followed by the rebirth of spring. And in this kind of context it is not surprising to find the hare.

— pages 100-102 of The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson

Happy Holidays!

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