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2020 AFC Mummers’ Play Podcast: The Peaceful Transfer of Mumming

Stephen Winick as Father Christmas holds a sign that says "The Peaceful Transfer of Mumming"

Stephen Winick as Father Christmas. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer. The sign text has been modified by the author to illustrate this blog.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that every year, in the week or two before Christmas, staff members of the American Folklife Center engage in a dramatic, comedic, and musical performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress. The performance is based on traditional mummers’ plays, and allows us to put our research skills into play alongside our more playful impulses. This year, we realized we couldn’t perform our mummers’ play live, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t want to let the pandemic defeat us, though, so we decided to do our play anyway–just in a different way. We’ve been recording our podcast, Folklife Today, remotely throughout the pandemic, we reasoned. So why not do the mummers’ play as a podcast episode, sort of like an old-time radio play?

So that’s what we did. I wrote the play and recruited the actors. John Fenn recorded the dialogue through an online podcasting platform. Our musical director, Jennifer Cutting, recorded some accordion music in her home studio. John and I looked for sound effects, editing and compositing them where necessary.  John did the principal editing, and I fine-tuned it and prepared a transcript.

John Fenn, wearing headphones, sits in front of a laptop, a desktop monitor, and audio equipment.

John Fenn in his home podcasting studio.

All the recording was done remotely over the Web, so the sound quality of the different voices varies. We hope that despite that, we’ve captured the spirit of our own seasonal antics, part of the spirit of traditional mummers’ plays, and some of the atmosphere of radio drama. However well we succeeded, we had fun and learned a lot!  We hope you enjoy the results.

As Father Christmas suggests, you can download our play, The Peaceful Transfer of Mumming, from the “loc/gov.podcasts page,” at this link.  It’s also available on Stitcher, and you can find it with your favorite podcatcher. But in this case, we’ve taken the unusual step of embedding an audio player below, so you can also listen to it right here on the blog.  That way, you can read along with the lines and see pictures of the characters in costume, while you’re listening.  It’s all right here on this page!  The player is immediately below this, followed by the play text, annotations, and credits. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

The Peaceful Transfer of Mumming

Father Christmas, played by Stephen Winick, performs in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

Father Christmas, played by Stephen Winick, performs in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Song: “Jolly Wassail” sung by unknown singers
Alan Lomax Collection (Find the archival version here)

The master and mistress, sitting down at their ease
Put their hands in their pockets and give what they please
To our wassail, wassail, wassail, wassail
And joy come on our jolly wassail….

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Zoom Room! Gentles all, pray give us a Zoom room to rhyme
We’ve come to show activity this merry Christmas time
Activity of Youth!  Activity of Age!
Such activity has never been before upon the loc.gov/podcasts page!  [1]

In comes I, old Father Christmas
And be I welcome or welcome not, [2]

EVERYONE:
Welcome!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot
My beard is long, my back is bent
My knees are weak, my strength is spent
Two thousand years and twenty is a very great age for me
And if I’d been quarantined all these years
What a recluse I would be!
Ah, but speaking of quarantine, I should say
Our hearts go out this winter’s day
To all who have lost friends, lost work, or gotten sick
We hope the world’s recovery will be merciful and quick
We urge you to be safe, to hunker down and persevere
And we hope we’ll all be vaccinated sometime within the year. [3]

Up at the North Pole all is well. [4]
There really isn’t much to tell;
Father Christmas, Linear Feet, and old Beelzebub
Are all still members of our little North Pole club.

Thomas Jefferson played by Michelle Stefano, holding up an ice cream scoop.

Thomas Jefferson played by Michelle Stefano. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

And no guests or new arrivals have showed up since last year
And so we have no virus yet to bother us up here.
But it makes for a dull Christmas for us I confess,
Because we’re used to having so many distinguished guests.
In fact, I’ve told you about U.S. presidents coming here [5]
But did you know we once had three in the same year?

It was December 1800, and I remember one fine day
Our good friend Thomas Jefferson appeared on his five-dog open sleigh! [6]

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
In comes I, Thomas Jefferson! I was up here just last year. [7]
I came in search of ice for ice cream and I found these good folks here! [8]
I thought I’d come to call again, since it is Christmastime
To harvest ice and visit with these North Pole chums of mine!

BEELZEBUB:
Hello, Jefferson!  Nice to see you!  It’s old Beelzebub!
I guess you recognized me by this awesome caveman club! [9]
My big and curly ram’s horns are also very cute
Especially combined with my woolly demon suit!
So what’s the news? When last we saw you heading to the U.S.A.
You said there was an election and you were keen to join the fray!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
There was!  I won!  I’m finally the President-Elect!
In March my new position is set to take effect. [10]
The peaceful transfer of power is our most cherished tradition;
It goes back almost…four whole years, to our very first transition!

Beelzebub played by Stephanie Hall. The demon is dressed in furs and has ram's horns as well as a club slung across her back.

Beelzebub played by Stephanie Hall. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

When President Washington decided that he would no longer run,
John Adams and I ran for President, and that loser, Adams, won.
I became vice-president, and this year I ran once more [11]
Now Adams is our first one-term president, and I’m showing him the door.

Father Christmas:
It’s good to see you, Jefferson!  I’m glad you came back this way!

LINEAR FEET:
[clears throat]

Father Christmas:
But what’s this?  Linear Feet, my Library Elf, has something she wants to say! [12]

LINEAR FEET:
That’s right! With my sharp elf-ears, I happen to hear
That another dogsled’s drawing near!

JOHN ADAMS:
Jefferson?  Jefferson!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
Good god, it’s President John Adams!  He was following my sleigh!

JOHN ADAMS:
Ah, there you are! Let’s get to work! We don’t have all day!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
I’m president-elect, I’m not your flunky anymore
I’m tired of listening to you, because you know what?  You’re a bore!
Besides, in your campaign you slandered me, and that was very rude!
You said if they elected me, that people would be screwed!
That “murder, robbery, and incest” would “openly be taught!” [13]

[Everyone gasps]

A portrait of president John Adams that has been modified to look like actor George Thuronyi.

George Thuronyi as John Adams. Artwork modified by Stanley Murgolo.

JOHN ADAMS:
Yes, that was good campaigning, or so my advisers thought!
But you’re not so innocent, Jefferson, I know your little game
You hired that low-life pamphleteer to tarnish my good name!
A “hideous, hermaphroditical character!”  He called me that in print! [14]
[Everyone murmurs “oooooohhhhh.”]
And other names that were so bad they made my poor wife squint!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
Ah yes, the lovely Abigail, I hope she’s doing fine!
I know she’s very fond of books, and she’s welcome to borrow mine.
In fact, this little piece of news might give her a surprise:
She thinks you have a big library, but MINE is TWICE the SIZE! [15]

JOHN ADAMS:
Now that’s enough! I don’t mind you stealing the election
But I can’t have you insulting the size of my collection!
Your scurrilous campaign ads were offensive, mean, and cruel
And so, you worthless scoundrel, I challenge you to a duel!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
Pull out your purse and pay, sir!

JOHN ADAMS:
Pull out your sword and play sir! [16]

[They fight, and Jefferson is killed.]

Valda Morris dressed as an elf, with a Santa Claus hat.

Valda Morris as Linear Feet in 2016. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

BEELZEBUB:
Well, here’s a situation for which we have no precedent:
The president-elect’s been killed by the sitting president!

JOHN ADAMS:
Ha! Now that Jefferson is gone, I’ll keep this presidency thing
I mean, let’s face it, it was more stable back when we colonies had a King!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
No no no, this won’t do! Power’s not his for the taking!
I wonder who can free the U.S. from this tyrant in the making?

LINEAR FEET:
I know who we call now, the man to save the day–
St. George, the standard hero of the standard Mummer’s Play:

EVERYONE:
St. George! St. George!  St. George!

[Yankee Doodle Fanfare for Saint George Entrance]

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
In comes I, St. George…Washington
And over my shoulder I carry a gun [17]
On my head a tricorn hat;
What do you people think of that?
In the war of Independence, I blew the redcoats down.
I defeated old king George, and I broke his fabled crown!
My countrymen made me president, and I served as best I knew
And when my time was over, I turned over power to…you.

JOHN ADAMS:
George Washington? No fair! You’re dead! [18]

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
No I ain’t!
I went up to heaven and I’ve come back as a Saint!

JOHN ADAMS:
Well, you’re a tedious old has-been, and your time has come and gone
I kind of like the presidency, so I’ll keep it from now on!

Half-length portrait of Hope O'Keeffe dressed as George Washington, pointing to her hat.

“On my head a tricorn hat…” Hope O’Keeffe portraying George Washington.

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
I can’t let you do that, my principles won’t allow it
If you remain, I’ll come back as a ghost to disavow it!
Our citizens will heed my words, and force your abrogation
After all, they still consider ME the Father of the Nation!

JOHN ADAMS:
In that case, I have no choice…I challenge you to fight
And when I win a second duel, that will prove I’m in the right.

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
Real men despise battle, but will never run from it. [19]
So let me take my sword in my hand, and remove my trusty gun from it!

JOHN ADAMS:
Ready?  Good!
Mind your eyes and guard your blows
Or I will stab thee through the nose!

[They duel, and Washington is killed.]

LINEAR FEET:
Alas! George Washington’s dead again, and on the ground is laid! [20]
Who knew that old John Adams was such a badass with a blade?

BEELZEBUB:
Now that he’s killed two presidents, the homicide is double
We’ll have to think of something, or America’s in trouble.

Jennifer Cutting, in a Christmas sweater and a Santa hat, plays her accordion into a microphone.

Jennifer Cutting records accordion tunes in her home studio.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Yes, he’s murdered Washington, who led the revolution
And Jefferson’s been killed as well, which spoiled his constitution [21]
But here at the North Pole we have an excellent health care plan
America ought to have one, Adams…anybody can
Observe: I only have to call, and a doctor will arrive
And with any luck at all, bring these two back alive!

Is there a doctor to be found,
To cure his deep and deadly…wound?

ALL:
Wound!

Thea Austen, dressed in a colonial-era gown and a fur hat, listens to her husky's head with a stethoscope

Dr. Dolley Madison, portrayed by Thea Austen, examines Jefferson’s lead sled dog, portrayed by Nevsky.

DOCTOR DOLLEY MADISON:
In comes I! My Name is Dolley Madison! [22]

JOHN ADAMS:
You’re not a doctor!

DOCTOR DOLLEY MADISON:
I am while this hat is on!

[Rim shot sound effect]

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Hmm…how came you to be a doctor?

DOCTOR MADISON:
I’m the hostess with the mostess, the queen of the founding mothers,
And someday I’ll be First Lady, if I really get my druthers.
But like poor Thomas, I’m into ice cream…in fact, I have to say [23]
I think ice cream could be a million-dollar business some fine day!
So I snuck up here to harvest ice, and found, to my surprise
That North Pole women are allowed to go to med school with the guys!
So I sent James a letter that I’d be gone a year or two
And I earned my own M.D. degree from good old North Pole U!

JOHN ADAMS:
North Pole University?  That’s not a real school!
Women can’t be doctors!  Do you think that I’m a fool?

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Well, yes….I mean, it IS almost the nineteenth century.
These conventions are outdated!
Besides, I’ve worked with thousands of male doctors,
And most of them are overrated!
Women doctors are the future, of that we can be sure!
So tell us, Doctor Madison, what diseases can you cure?

DOCTOR MADISON:
I can cure catalepsy, dogalepsy, elephantiasis of the hippocampus
Rhinovirus, horse fever, and abduction by the Krampus [24]
Also, P1 flat tires, VPN wheezes
Continuing Resolution freezes
And all other librarious diseases [25]

Thea Austen, dressed in a colonial-era gown, listens to her husky's head with a stethoscope. The dog's mouth is open as though he is talking.

Jefferson’s lead sled dog, portrayed by Nevsky, tells Dr. Dolley Madison, portrayed by Thea Austen, exactly where it hurts.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
But you can’t cure a man who’s been dead for five minutes

DOCTOR MADISON:
If he’s been dead five YEARS I can cure him!
Will you join me on my rounds?

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Very well!

[Jennifer plays walking music. During walking music, Linear Feet and Beelzebub stage whisper.]

LINEAR FEET:
They’re just WALKING around the bodies!

BEELZEBUB:
That’s called Grand Rounds!

[Walking Music Ends]

DOCTOR MADISON:
Definitely dead!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
What can you do for him?

Doctor Dolley Madison, portrayed by Thea Austen, holds a plate of chocolate cakes in one hand and a stethoscope in the other.

Doctor Dolley Madison and her chocolate zingers.

DOCTOR MADISON:
I have medicinal cakes called “chocolate Zingers” [26]
Let’s rub the icing on his fingers
And see if his condition lingers….

[Accordion music of the “Jeopardy” or “Time Passes” type.]

BEELZEBUB:
It’s not working!

[Duck quacking sound effect.]

DOCTOR MADISON:
OK, OK, I’ll have another go…let’s see…
Hmmm, Koo Koos and Googles and Razzys [27]
Won’t work in these cases, I’ve found
They’re secretly the same thing as Zingers,
Except for the fact that they’re round.
But THIS is a vial of “Ridge’s Food,” dissolved in cheap champagne [28]
It’s the best of all folk medicine for them as has been slain!
Just a bit from my bottle, applied to his throttle…

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
[Glug, glug, glug] More! [Glug, glug, glug]

LINEAR FEET:
He’s moving!  He’s getting up!

[Triumphant accordion and cheers]

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
Well, that was a strange dream, but I guess the night is done;
Whether I retire early or late, I rise with the sun! [29]

BEELZEBUB:
But what about St. George Washington, Doctor?  Will you fix him next?

DOCTOR MADISON:
I’ve been told that no one can fix Washington, but I’ll do my best!
Here, St. George, have a drink from my nip-nap.

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
[Glug, glug, glug] Cough. [Pause] Comical Cough. [pause]. More comical cough.  [pause]

LINEAR FEET:
Look, he’s getting up too!

Full length portrait of Hope O'Keeffe as George Washington, with a sword in one hand and a flintlock pistol in the other.

Hope O’Keeffe as George Washington

[Triumphant accordion]

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
Death is the abyss from where no traveler may return. [30]
Or that’s what I thought this time last year, but there’s always more to learn!

JOHN ADAMS:
That’s Washington all right, a platitude for every occasion!
I killed the man with a sabre, and now? Not even an abrasion!

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
I can’t believe he killed me!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
I can’t believe he killed ME!

JOHN ADAMS:
I’ll teach you two to play Possum!  I’ll carve you to the heart! [31]

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Grab them, quick, Hold them fast! Keep them all apart!

[Struggling sound effects]

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
Where’s my sword?

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
Why you….

BEELZEBUB:
Hold it, hold it…this won’t do…
When we let them go, they’ll just fight again!

LINEAR FEET:
There must be someone at the North Pole to control these crazy men

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
I hear someone coming…I hear trouble brewing

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
What in God’s name do you fools think you’re doing?

JOHN ADAMS:
Abigail? Oh, h…h…hello, darling. How did you get up here?

Jennifer Cutting in a colonial-era dress and wig portrays Abigail Adams

Jennifer Cutting as Abigail Adams

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
I stowed away in your stupid sleigh between the salt pork and the beer!
And now I find you’ve been killing the other Founding Fathers?
Explain yourself at once, if it isn’t too much bother!

JOHN ADAMS:
I…well, dearest Abigail…I know it was unwise
But Jefferson started it by boasting about his library’s impressive size.

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
Huh!  Men! I’ll tell you a secret that all women know but every man overlooks:
It’s not the size of the Library that counts, but what you learn from hitting the books!

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
But 6487 volumes is impressive, is it not?
And I did learn some clever things by reading quite a lot
For example: “Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.” [32]
And I learned how to win an election, as I’m sure you have been told.

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
Stop your preening, Thomas, I thought you were my friend
But your vile slander during the campaign has brought that to an end.
Your foulest falsehoods taught me a lesson that needed to be learned:
You’re a base calumniater as far as I’m concerned. [33]

 

THOMAS JEFFERSON:
[mumbles] Sorry, Abigail

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
And you, George?  What have YOU got to say for yourself?

GEORGE WASHINGTON:
I cannot tell a lie; my answer is a sad one:
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” [34]

Father Christmas, portrayed by Stephen Winick, thanks Abigail Adams, portrayed by Jennifer Cutting, for ending the dissension.

Father Christmas, portrayed by Stephen Winick, thanks Abigail Adams, portrayed by Jennifer Cutting, for ending the dissension. Yule Cat (who does not have a speaking role) lurks in the background.

ABIGAIL ADAMS:
Well, at least ONE of you got ONE thing right, there’s no excuse for this!
If women could vote, we’d vote you fools down into the abyss! [35]

So listen up, here’s what we’ll do… We’ll stay here til the new year comes
And then we’ll go our separate ways and pretend we’re all still chums.
John and I will go to Boston, George to Paradise
Thomas can go to Washington with a ton or two of ice
We’ll never speak of these duels again, whatever should occur
So the world will never know how dumb the founding fathers were.
That’s my firm decision, that’s all I have to say,
Now John, get me some stiff egg nog, because it has been a day! [36]

JOHN ADAMS:
Yes, dear

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Abigail Adams, we humbly thank you for ending this dissension
And now let’s have some music…I think that might break the tension!

Valda Morris as Linear Feet gestures with her hands during a performance in 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Valda Morris as Linear Feet in 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

LINEAR FEET:
My name is Linear Feet, as we have said before
I’m a Library elf of great request, and I’ll leave you wanting more
With my brain so big, and my hands so small
I’ll call you a tune to please you all!
Muddy boots and dirty faces
Now all you dancers, take your places!

[Accordion tune: “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”] [37]

Michelle Stefano as Thomas Jefferson in 2018.

Michelle Stefano as Thomas Jefferson in 2018. Photo by Shawn Miller.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
So that’s the story of the three presidents and how they came to visit
And the awkwardness of THAT Christmas party was something quite exquisite!
The presidents’ visit to the North Pole is now known to but a few
For the bitter memories faded, as such memories tend to do
And after new year’s, sure enough, they went their separate ways
And eventually became friends again towards their final days. [38]
And so may it be for us as well, as the years go by
Let our friends be many and our enemies few, and our happiness multiply!

Song: Gloucestershire Wassail [39]

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here’s to the bullock and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to the milk cow and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
A good crop of corn that we may all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here’s to the calf and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
A happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Notes

Stephen Winick portrays Father Christmas in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

“Room! Room!” Stephen Winick as Father Christmas in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.. Photo by Angela Napili. Used by permission.

This post was updated on December 19, 2020, to include photos of Jennifer Cutting portraying Abigail Adams. Jennifer’s costume was delayed in transit due to the pandemic and arrived after the blog was published. 

[1] This variation of a traditional mummers’ play opening introduces the circumstances of our 2020 mummers play: it’s being performed in virtual space and presented as a podcast. Our play normally begins:

Room! Room! Gentles all, pray give us a room to rhyme
We’ve come to show activity at merry Christmas time
Activity of youth!  Activity of age!
Such activity has never been before upon the stage!

[2] As I’ve pointed out in this previous blog post, Father Christmas’s concern over whether he is welcome and whether he will be forgotten stems from his beginnings during the Puritan ascendancy in England, when Christmas was outlawed and unwelcome.

[3] Although we often make our plays contemporary, in this case, rather than dwell on the COVID-19 pandemic during the play, we wanted to express our best wishes to everyone in a difficult time.

[4] Although Father Christmas was not associated with the North Pole in earlier English folklore, by the early 20th century authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien were placing the character there.

[5] Our previous mummers plays have featured visits from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

[6] Jefferson appeared in the 2018 play, FrankenMumming.

Frankenstein's Monster, portrayed by John Fenn in 2008. The Monster holds a tenor guitar.

Frankenstein’s Monster, portrayed by John Fenn in 2018.

[7] FrankenMumming occurred in the same year Victor Frankenstein died in the Arctic; the novel Frankenstein places this in the undetermined year “17–.” For our purposes, we made it a year in which Jefferson was Vice President and planning to run for president–in other words, 1799. Thus, since this play occurs in 1800, the events of FrankenMumming occurred “just last year.” Since the end of FrankenMumming makes it clear that Frankenstein’s monster stayed at the North Pole for some years and joined in the mumming, that means that although he didn’t have a speaking part in our podcast, “Frankie” (right) was there, lurking in the background.

[8] One of our unique archival treasures at the Library of Congress is Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for ice cream. Find the manuscript here.

[9] The traditional mummers’ play character Beelzebub typically begins with the lines “In comes I, Beelzebub, over my shoulder I carry a club.” Years ago we bought a large plastic caveman club for those years when Beelzebub features in our play.

[10] In those days, presidential inaugurations were indeed held in March.  However, we depart from history in that the election of 1800 was contested. In December 1800 it was clear that John Adams had lost but not that Thomas Jefferson had won. Jefferson and Aaron Burr famously tied in the electoral college, and the House of Representatives elected Jefferson on the 38th ballot in February 1801.

[11] In those days, the runner-up in the presidential election became Vice President.

[12]  “Linear Feet” is one of our library jokes; it’s a measure of how much shelf space an item or collection uses. Mummers’ play characters sometimes have names consisting of an adjective and a body part–traditional characters include “Big Head” and “Clever Legs.” We thought “Linear Feet” made a good character name for a Library mummers’ play.

[13] It was not Adams who said this about Jefferson, but a writer named “Burleigh” in the Connecticut Courant. However, Jefferson and Adams each felt the other had encouraged and possibly paid for such attacks.

[14] The “pamphleteer” in question was James Callender. It’s not clear that Jefferson “hired” him to publish attacks on Adams, but letters between Jefferson and Abigail Adams in 1804 make it clear that the Adamses believed Jefferson had paid Callender to attack Adams. Jefferson had certainly paid Callender money, but Jefferson claimed he had simply been helping Callender, who was a refugee from British sedition laws. He also claimed that he disapproved of Callender’s attacks on Adams, but his correspondence with Callender shows no hint of this. In the end, Callender turned on Jefferson, and was the first to publish rumors that Jefferson had children by his enslaved housekeeper, whom Callender called “Sally.” The woman in question was the extraordinary Sally Hemings, and we now know the rumors were true.  Read more about James Callender in this article at Slate.  Read more about Sally Hemings in this online exhibit at Monticello.

[15] Jefferson’s library, which formed the basis of the Library of Congress, numbered 6487 volumes. See the Library of Congress “Jefferson’s Library” exhibit at this link. Adams’s library is described by the Boston Public Library as “over 3000 volumes,” and is therefore about half the size of Jefferson’s. Find the John Adams Library at this link on the Boston Public Library website.

[16] “Pull out your purse and pay, sir/Pull out your sword and play, sir” is an iconic traditional mummers’ play couplet.

[17] This is based on a real mummers’ play couplet. On December 21, 1884, the Times from Philadelphia reported:

One of the English customs which obtained a foothold in Philadelphia was the masque of the mummers, a custom kept up from the middle part of the last century to within fifty or sixty years of the present day. The mummers were usually young fellows, who dressed in fantastic costume, took upon themselves characters and went from house to house reciting certain rhymes and expecting “dole,” which they generally received in the shape of pennies or something to eat and drink. The English Christmas masque of “St. George and the Dragon” was the foundation of their little play. With patriotic feeling, however, they Americanized the piece. St. George was not recognized, but George Washington took his place […] His speech commenced: “Here am I, great Washington, On my shoulder I carry a gun.”

[18] George Washington had died about a year earlier, in December 1799.

[19] This quotation is frequently attributed to Washington.

[20] “Mind your eyes and guard your blows, or I will stab thee through the nose” is a good example of traditional mummers’ play dialogue.  “Alas, our hero is dead, and on the ground is laid” is likewise a traditional mummers’ play line, which explains its unusual syntax.

[21] These lines reference the popular sea chantey “Haul Away Jo.” W.B. Whall’s 1910 version of this chantey includes the verse:

King Louis was the king o’ France, before the revolution
Away, haul away, haul away, Jo
The people cut his head off, which spoilt his constitution….

[22] Dolley Madison’s husband James Madison, known as “the father of the Constitution,” was Jefferson’s Secretary of State, and his successor as President.

[23] Dolley Madison served ice cream frequently during her time as First Lady, and became so associated with ice cream that a popular brand of ice cream was later named for her. She may have picked up her taste for it from Jefferson; since Jefferson was a widower, he had no First Lady. Several women stepped in to fill the role of hostess for the executive mansion (which was not yet known as the White House), including Dolley Madison. In this role she hosted many events with Jefferson before her husband became President. Read about Dolley Madison and Ice cream here.

Greeting card showing Krampus, a Christmas demon, abducting two children. The card reads "Gruss vom Krampus!" which means "Greetings from Krampus!"

Greetings from Krampus! This greeting card from the early 20th century shows Krampus abducting a naughty child and rewarding a good one.

[24] The Doctor in mummers’ plays tends to mention a series of nonsensical diseases. We adapt this list each year. This is the first time we have mentioned Krampus, the popular Christmas demon of central European folklore.

[25] In some plays, the Doctor claims to cure “all other vandorious diseases.” We liked the idea of “librarious diseases,” which is equally nonsensical but more library-related.

[26] Now marketed by Hostess, the snack cakes called “Zingers” were originally made and sold by the Dolly Madison brand.

[27] Koo Koos, Googles, and Razzys were other Dolly Madison snack cakes of the 1970s.

[28] Ridge’s Food was a 19th century baby food whose advertising jingle entered the oral tradition. I wrote about the jingle’s folkloric roots and its composition in this blog post.

[29] The quotation about rising with the sun comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to Dr. Vine Utley, which you can read here.

[30] This is another quotation frequently attributed to Washington.

[31] “Carve him to the heart” is the refrain of a song about eating an opossum. You can hear Doney Hammontree sing it in this blog post about the opossum and American foodways.

[32] This quotation comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to Thomas Jefferson Smith. You can read the letter here.

Jennifer Cutting as Abigail Adams, in a colonial-era mask and wig, scowls at the audience

Jennifer Cutting as Abigail Adams

[33] Abigail Adams used the phrases “foulest falsehoods,” “vile slander,” and “base calumniater” in a letter she wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1804 complaining about his behavior in the 1800 campaign. These charges were laid in the letter not against Jefferson himself, but against James Callender (see note 14). However, she made it clear in the letter that she believed Jefferson had encouraged and even paid Callender to libel her husband. Read the letter at this link.

[34] “I cannot tell a lie” comes from an apocryphal story about George Washington that probably originated with Parson Weems. [Read Weems’s book here.] “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one” comes from a letter Washington wrote to his niece Harriot, which you can read at this link.

[35] This is a nod to the Library of Congress’s celebrations of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.

[36] Eggnog derives from British and European beverages, but the name “eggnog” seems to be an American innovation of the late 18th Century–Abigail Adams’s lifetime. Eggnog was popular with the Founding Fathers and Mothers, and in the 19th century a recipe for eggnog was attributed to George Washington. However, according to recent research from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which you can read here, the recipe does not really survive in Washington’s written records.

[37] “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” also known as “Brighton Camp,” was popular in Colonial America. Find a classic version played by Henry Reed at this link.

[38] The Adamses and Jefferson did eventually reconcile in letters written from 1811 until their deaths. Famously, both men died on July 4, 1826–the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Read about their friendship at the Monticello website.

[39] “The Gloucestershire Wassail” is a song sung by rural farmworkers in Gloucestershire, England, while visiting and toasting the inhabitants of nearby farms and houses. The words to the song were first published in 1813. One hundred and twenty years later, James Madison Carpenter photographed Gloucestershire wassailers and recorded their song. His recordings, photos of the wassailers, and manuscripts of the song, are preserved in the AFC archive and now online at this link from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in England. The version we sing is derived from various published versions, but such names as “Whitefoot” and “Old Broad,” which were names for farm animals, have been replaced with more generic descriptors such as “the milk cow” and “the ox,” which makes the song more comprehensible to non-farming folk.

Credits

Father Christmas, portrayed by Stephen Winick, holds Yule Cat, portrayed by Figgy. Yule Cat had a non-speaking role!

Father Christmas, portrayed by Stephen Winick, holds Yule Cat, portrayed by Figgy. Yule Cat had a non-speaking role!

Play text by Stephen Winick with contributions from the cast
Accordion by Jennifer Cutting
Audio Editing by John Fenn

Father Christmas: Stephen Winick
Thomas Jefferson: Michelle Stefano
Beelzebub: Stephanie Hall
Linear Feet: Valda Morris
John Adams: George Thuronyi
George Washington: Hope O’Keeffe
Doctor Dolley Madison: Thea Austen
Abigail Adams: Jennifer Cutting

Sound Effects from freesound.org:

495327: (“Five studio recorded Bar Chimes Samples” by user tosha73): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain)
https://freesound.org/people/tosha73/sounds/495327/

423935 (“Draw sword#1” by user fielastro): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain)
https://freesound.org/people/fielastro/sounds/423935/

484298 (“Drawing sword from scabbard” by user giddster): Creative Commons Attribution.
https://freesound.org/people/giddster/sounds/484298/

175409 (“wah wah sad trombone” by user kirbydx): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain)
https://freesound.org/people/kirbydx/sounds/175409/

271208 (“Baddum Tish – Comedy Rimshots – classic rim shot” by user rodincoil): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain)
https://freesound.org/people/rodincoil/sounds/271208/

140867 (“remix of jew’s / jaw harp boing” by user Timbre): Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial
https://freesound.org/people/Timbre/sounds/140873/

185134 (“duck calling. Recorded near Frutillar (Puerto Varas, Chile)” by user dobroide): Creative Commons Attribution.
https://freesound.org/people/dobroide/sounds/185134/

4245 (“uncorking a bottle of wine, then movement of liquid inside” by user dobroide): Creative Commons Attribution.
https://freesound.org/people/dobroide/sounds/4245/ ]

169233 (“CROWD YAY” by user mlteenie): Creative Commons Attribution.
https://freesound.org/people/mlteenie/sounds/169233/

394338 (“Drawing a sword” by user Denys): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain).
https://freesound.org/people/Denys/sounds/394338/

483254 (“Fight Sounds” by user craigsmith): Creative Commons Zero (Public Domain)
https://freesound.org/people/craigsmith/sounds/483254/

365159 (“Sword Fight” by user Jack_Freedom5712): Creative Commons Attribution.
https://freesound.org/people/Jack_Freedom5712/sounds/365159/

88011 (“01457 sledge ride 1” by user Robinhood76): Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial.
https://freesound.org/people/Robinhood76/sounds/88011/

258326 (“20131009_133725 dog-yard ambience” by user betchkal): Creative Commons Attribution
https://freesound.org/people/betchkal/sounds/258326/

4 Comments

  1. Willie Leebel
    December 23, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    You guys are the greatest!

  2. Cia
    December 26, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Greetings from Oklahoma. OMG. I enjoyed this immensely. We have a relative in another department of LOC who has told us about your annual event. It was to get to hear for real….happy new year!

  3. Chris McGahey
    December 27, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    Friends and actors. Steve’s words are an annual treasure. Well written. Joyfully portrayed. You’ve filled my Christmas bowl. Many many thanks for that!!

  4. Cassy Ammen
    December 28, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Charge your glass. Pray, raise your glass. To the health of these friends in company tonight. To the good fortune of the company and generosity of Stephen, Michelle, Stephanie, Valda, George, Hope, Thea, John, and Jennifer – this week’s post is sure to be a real lally cooler. Three cheers for the AFC!

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