Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Powder and Shot to Conquer the Lot

For what I think must be about twenty-five years prominent local character Arthur K. has been hosting a Twelfth Night party on the Saturday preceding (or on) Twelfth Night. Arthur seems to be the nexus of many local counter-mainstream aggregates. He may well be a founding member of Minnesota Traditional Morris (one of the oldest Morris Dance sides in the country) and everybody who has ever worked at the Renaissance Festival seems to consider him a dear friend. I can't count the number of times I have met somebody who, on learning that I dance Morris, asks me if I know Arthur. His friends span generations and cultural boundaries. He, himself, is an unreconstructed hippie sort, still long-haired and beer-drinking, with many buttons on his hats (including "Thank you for not asking me not to smoke").

In this picture you can see Arthur in RenFest kit, wearing a beret and holding his ever-present beer mug.

I knew that I was part of the local Morris community long before I actually danced when I received an invitation to Arthur's Twelfth Night party. This year's party was held last Saturday night.

There is much that is the same from year to year at the party, Along about midnight a group arrives to perform a Mummer's play. At the stroke of midnight we all gather on the first floor of the house and sing "The Wren", an old British song about the pagan tradition of hunting a wren who is symbolically the King. Or something.

Every year, this one included, I am amazed to behold a houseful of people who are wholly familiar with the Mumming tradition, chanting along with some of the common lines and heckling and laughing at the points of departure from the standard Mummer's play. I am amazed that a large group of people in the 21st century, many unknown to each other and many a long mile from England, all know the same song and will sing it without self-consciousness. It doesn't seem to occur to anybody that this would strike some folks as unusual; it is simply what we do, each year, as part of the seasonal round.

I know this may sound vaguely precious and artificial, but this is for nobody's benefit but our own. And if there is something inauthentic about a bunch of Americans from the suburbs taking on the traditions of the pre-industrial British countryside, well, I think marking midnight on logical Twelfth Night in this way beats hands down gathering at a television set to watch a ball drop (in terms of human connection, if not simple entertainment value).
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