The Christmas Play, Gander, Kentucky, 1930

M.Campbell (1938) pp.10-17


Folk Play Home Scripts Intro County List Class List Characters

Context:
Location: Gander, Kentucky, USA
Year: Perf. 1930
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: [Not given]

Source:

Marie Campbell
Survivals of old Folk Drama in the Kentucky Mountains.
Journal of American Folklore, Jan.-Mar.1938, Vol.51, No.199, pp.10-17


Cast: (Click on any name for the character name index.)
Text:

{THE CHRISTMAS PLAY.}

{The Play.}

{After a huge bonfire has been made to give heat and light}

Presenter:

We air now aiming to give a dumb show
for to pleasure the Little Teacher
for not going off to the level country
to keep Christmas with her kin.
Hit ain't noways perfect the way we act out this here dumb show,
but hit ain't been acted out amongst our settlement
for uppards of twenty or thirty year, maybe more.
I reckon folks all knows hit air bad luck
to talk with the dumb show folks or guess who they air.
Now then we aim to start.

{The Presenter goes into the cabin and comes out walking backward with a broom.}

Presenter:

Out comes I hind part before,
With my big broom to sweep up the floor.

{He sweeps a wide circle, all the time muttering over and over.}

Room, room, gallons of room.

{When a circle of sufficient size has been swept, he stops muttering and begins the presentation of characters. When each character's name is called, the character struts around the outside of the circle and steps out of the circle until his part in the action of the play.}

Presenter:

{1.}

In comes old Father Christmas,
Welcome or not, welcome or not,
I hope old Father Christmas
Never is forgot, never is forgot.

{2.}

In comes old Dame Dorothy,
Drinking liquor's all her folly,
Wearing silks and being bawdy.

{3.}

Old Bet comes in once a year
To get her kissed and bring good cheer.

{4.}

Oh the next that now comes in
Is The Bessie as you see,
He's a woman or a man
With a cow's tail, can you see?

{5.}

In steps black faced
Little Devil Doubt,
Humped over bad
Toting his burdens about.

{6.}

Pickle Herring he comes in
To join the dance,
Wearing a bedgown
Instead of his pants.

{7.}

Here's the doctor pure and good
With his pills he stops the blood.

{The Presenter steps back among the spectators and Father Christmas and Dame Dorothy enter the circle. Old Bet and The Bessie tease the audience, she pretending to kiss the men, he the women.}

Father Christmas:

Here comes I, old Father Christmas, welcome or not;
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
We are come to laugh and cheer,
And if our pudding it be done,
We'll fry this hare and have some fun.

Dame Dorothy:

I'll beat it and bale it
And cut it in slices,
And take an old pot,
And boil it with spices.

Father Christmas:

You'll fry this hare and yet no word be said,
For if you dare to boil the hare,
With my pan I'll crack your head.

Dame Dorothy:

How can you crack my head?
My head is made of steel.

{The Bessie and Old Bet join the chorus and they repeat all conversation up to the time of the arrival of the doctor.}

Dame Dorothy:

I'll cut you into button holes,
And make your buttons fly.

Father Christmas:

I'll fill your body full of bullets,
And make your blood fly.

Dame Dorothy:

I'll cut your coat all full of holes,
And make the rags fly.

Father Christmas:

I'll cut you down the middle,
And make your blood to fly.

Dame Dorothy:

I'll cut you small as flies,
And use you up to cook mince pies.

Father Christmas:

If your blood is hot,
I'll make it cold,
As cold as muddy clay.
I'll take your life and blood,
And throw the hare away.

{They fight. The Bessie and Old Bet join them. Dame Dorothy is helped by The Bessie, Father Christmas by Old Bet.}

Dame Dorothy {showing the red paper on her breast}:

Old Father Christmas,
See what you've done!
You've bloody killed
Your own loved one! {Falls dead.}

{The Bessie and Old Bet run away.}

Father Christmas:

Horrible, terrible,
See what I've done!
I cut her down
Like the evening sun! {the chorus repeats}
Is there a doctor to be found
To cure her of this deep and deadly wound ? {chorus}
Oh is there a doctor near at hand
To heal her wound and make her stand ?

{The chorus, which has been repeating all conversations up until now repeats the last of Father Christmas' speech and is silent until the end of the play.}

Doctor Good {enters with Pickle Herring, who weeps over Dame Dorothy}:

Yes, there is a doctor near at hand
To heal her wound and make her stand.

Father Christmas:

What can you cure ?

Doctor Good:

I can cure the itch, the spots, and gout,
If there's nine devils in, I take six out.

Father Christmas:

What's your fee.
Doctor?

Doctor Good:

Fifteen pounds, it is my fee.

Father Christmas:

Work your cure and let me see.

Doctor Good:

I will. Where's Pickle Herring ?

Pickle Herring:

Oh here's Pickle Herring.

Doctor Good:

Hold up her head.

Pickle Herring:

Will she bite ?

Doctor Good:

Yes.

Pickle Herring:

Will she kick ?

Doctor Good:

Yes.

Pickle Herring:

Hold her yourself, then.

Doctor Good:

What's that, you rascal ?

Pickle Herring:

Oh I hold her, sir.

{He raises Dame Dorothy's head. Doctor Good gives her a pill. She jumps up.}

Dame Dorothy:

Once I was dead and now I'm alive.
Blessed be the man that made me revive.

Devil Doubt {entering}:

In comes I, Little Devil Doubt,
With all my family on my back.
Christmas comes but once a year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer.

{Devil Doubt takes Father Christmas' pan and collects gifts of people and lays them on the Little Teacher's hearth each time he gets a panful. The chorus sings "Jingle Bells" and "Come All Ye Faithful" while he is making the collection. When Devil Doubt returns the pan. Father Christmas sweeps everybody out of the circle and then sweeps the hearth in the teacher's cabin, explaining that it is bad luck to carry out ashes on Christmas Day.}

Father Christmas:

Our show is done, we stay no longer here.
God bless the mistress of this house,
And when she wakes up Christmas Day,
Lord Jesus, bring her cheer.

{The mummers depart singing the "Mummers' Carol."}

{MUMMERS' CAROL.}

{Tom and George Fields did not give a copy of the "Mummers' Carol" with the text for their mummers' play. But at Christmas time in 1935 Susan Fields, Tom's wife, sent the version given below. It came with Susan's explanation that Tom used to sing the tune to the clacking of his old water mill, but now that he had a gasoline engine he was "like to fergit hit." So she had one of her children copy it for me.}

[All]

There is six days all in a week,
All for a laboring man,
But Christmas Day is the day of our Lord,
Both Father and Son.
Our Christmas celebrate, my man,
Down your knees do fall,
And then do pray the Lord Jesus Christ
To bless and save you all.


Notes:

Campbell’s Notes:

p.10 - Relevant from the introduction:

"I thought no more of old time play acting in the mountain country till on Christmas Eve in 1930 some of the men and boys at Gander presented for me an old mummers' play. Later two of the men gave me a fairly complete text for the play."

"...All of the contributors were old people, and the play presented at Christmas time in 1930 was almost as new for the young people who belonged to the community as it was for me. Thirty or more years had passed since its last performance, and the play will not be presented again by this community because the two men who knew the text are both dead."

pp.10-11 - Description of the costumes in 1930:

"The Presenter - not in costume.

Father Christmas - Santa Claus suit borrowed from the school. Holly in his beard. Carried a frying pan and a dead rabbit.

Dame Dorothy - A man dressed in bright colored woman's clothes. Veil made of an old window curtain served as a mask. Red paper pinned inside the front of her dress was displayed later as blood.

Old Bet - A man dressed as an old woman. Apron, bonnet and shawl. Mistletoe on bonnet.

The Bessie - A man dressed as a woman with a cow's tail fastened on. Grotesque mask of brown paper with horns sticking up. Holly on the horns. Carried two cow bells strung across his hips.

Little Devil Doubt - A boy with his face blacked. A hump on his back. Gay red paper streamers tied around his arms and neck. Holly on his hat.

Pickle Herring - A man wearing a woman's 'bedgown' under a man's overcoat. Carried an inflated pig's bladder colored like a balloon. A dunce cap with gay streamers served as a mask. Many floating red paper streamers.

Doctor Good - A man wearing a long-tailed coat, spectacles, and a very high top hat. Face painted very red. No other mask. Holly on his hat. Carried a doctor's bag.

Chorus - Eight high school boys wearing the white smocks of the home economics class. Paper bags over their heads as masks. Hollv wreaths around their necks.

According to Tom and George Fields the following parts of the costuming were 'fixed by the way the old time folks decked out to go mumming':

The red paper or cloth pinned inside Dame Dorothy's dress and used to represent blood.

The woman's clothing on Old Bet.

The cow's tail, the woman's clothing, and the cow bells on The Bessie.

The 'bedgown,' the dunce cap, and the inflated bladder for the Pickle Herring.

The professional garb and red painted face or red mask on Doctor Good.

The white smocks on the chorus.

Holly, masks, and gay streamers on the cast. Other items of costuming were merely rustic attempts at disguise.

Indexer's notes:

Campbell also gives the words for three versions of The Cherry Tree Carol, plus two other carols - Three Ships, and The Holly and the Ivy. These were apparently sung before the acting of the play (p.15)

This text is reproduced here for non-profit purposes with the kind permission of the copyright holders - the American Folklore Society ( www.afsnet.org ). The original journal article is available online to licenced JSTOR users.


File History:
2nd Dec.2003 - Scanned and encoded by Peter Millington
27th May 2004 - Further notes added

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