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Happy Holidays: AFC’s 2022 Video Mummers’ Play

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. 

Happy Holidays from the American Folklife Center! In this blog post, you can enjoy our 2022 holiday mummers’ play.  As you may know, every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put our research and performance skills into play, bringing collections to life in a dramatic performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress.  Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. For a more thorough introduction to this tradition, please visit our introductory post on mumming, as well as previous plays, which you can find at this link.

This year’s play was called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. For a general note about the inspiration of the play, see note 1 below.

Watch the play in the player below, follow along in the script and see still photos from the performance and dress rehearsal beneath that. Finally, there are extensive explanatory notes at the end!  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays once more–the video player is immediately below!

The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault

A person with a sword lunges toward the camera

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Justina Moloney as Cool St. George. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Performed by the AFC Mummers
Written by Stephen Winick, with help from the AFC Mummers

Father Christmas: Stephen Winick
Linear Feet, North Pole Librarian: Valda Morris
Chaos: George Thuronyi
Fire Dragon: Masked Staffmember
Cold Front: Jennifer Cutting
Cool St. George: Justina Moloney
Doctor Joculus: Thea Austen
North Star: Eboni Scurlock

Featured musicians:
Jennifer Cutting, button accordion
John Fenn, guitar
Nancy Groce, whistle

[Enter Singing “Here We Come a Wassailing”]

Here we come a-wassailing [2]
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are merry mummers,
Whom you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

A person with a large staff, dressed as Father Christmas.

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Stephen Winick as Father Christmas. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Room, ROOM! Gentles all, pray give us room to rhyme [3]
We’ve come to show activity
This merry Christmas time
Activity of youth, activity of age
Such activity has never been before upon a stage
In comes I, old Father Christmas
And be I welcome or welcome not,
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, two and twenty is a very great age for me
And if I’d been doing outreach all these years, what a destination the North Pole would be!
And speaking of outreach, well, that reminds me [4]
Of a story from the archives at the North Pole Library… [5]
It was back in 1816, the year without a summer [6]
And so, in many countries, well, the news could not be glummer
People were cold and hungry, and there was not much we could do
But up at the North Pole we had enough to see us through
The North Pole Library re-org effort was continuing apace,
The Visiting Elf Master Plan, or VEMP was put in place [7]
I was standing in the Gallery, to admire the polar sights
We’d just upgraded our windows again, to let in the Northern Lights [8]

[Messenger on a hobby-horse delivers a package]

When in burst a messenger, with a package and a letter…
A present for Father Christmas, I thought—What could be better?
It was from President Madison—we’d already had the pleasure [9]
Of helping him with conservation of America’s National Treasure!
I assumed that he was writing just to see how that was going
But it turned out a strong and tuneful wind would soon be blowing….

Two costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. John Fenn as messenger musician and Stephen Winick as Father Christmas. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

[Reads from Madison’s Letter]
My Dear Father Christmas, he writes, I can’t believe it’s been a year!
Now I have a thorny problem and I thought I’d bend your ear.
There’s a certain French flute maker, and he’s quite a fan of mine!
And he keeps on sending me flutes, which Dolly thinks quite fine
But this year, it’s been so cold, I guess he thought it would be nice
To make a really rare one—so he made one out of ice! [10]
I could keep it until spring, but after that it’s sure to melt
And Dolly didn’t want to break his heart, and so we felt
That maybe the North Pole…if you don’t mind that I say it
Is a place where it can be preserved, and also folks can play it

So wrote the President, but such things are not my beat
Luckily the North Pole has a great Librarian: Linear Feet! [11]

A person dressed as an elf walks toward the camera.

Great Hall performance of the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Valda Morris as Linear Feet, North Pole Librarian. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer

LINEAR FEET:
In comes I, Linear Feet
The best Librarian you’ll ever meet
I’m the North Pole’s foremost Library elf
And I know what goes on every shelf
Books, manuscripts and Sound Recordings too
Nobody likes them better than you [points to someone in audience]
Prints and Photographs, movies and maps
Websites, memes, ebooks and apps!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
But do we have any place for musical instruments?

LINEAR FEET:
Of course we do! We have a beautiful Pavilion
With all our violins inside—and some are worth a million
And then to make sure we have the best security around
We built a special vault to keep our nice flutes safe and sound! [12]
Come with me….

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
But before I could follow Linear Feet to our new cold storage system
A familiar visitor arrived, and we can’t say that we missed him!

CHAOS:
Remember me? I’m Chaos! You’ve met with me before [13]
I like to cause confusion and disturbances galore
Last year I sent a vicious hacker to invade your precious Zoom
But in person I just let my “suspicious package” clear the room! [14]

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Where have you been since we last met?

A person dressed in colorful clothes poses for a picture

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” George Thuronyi as Chaos. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

CHAOS:
I went to the East Indies and caused a great eruption [15]
Which led to this little ice age—how is that for some disruption?
I heard about Madison’s ice flute, and you know, I kind of felt
That’s the sort of thing that Chaos likes to find, and likes to melt!
So I came back to the North Pole in my supersonic wagon
Just to introduce you people to my fire-breathing dragon! [16]

DRAGON:
Stand on Head! Stand on Feet!
With my breath, I make Heat!
I am the fire dragon, look at my claws!
I am the fire dragon, look at my jaws!
Look these wings and these horns that I’ve got…
And I’m sure you’ll agree…I’m pretty hot!

LINEAR FEET:
You can’t come in here, Dragon, heat is bad for our collection
So we have supernatural security installed for its protection
We have an Ice Fairy who is constantly on call
Because this is the North Pole Library, after all!

COLD FRONT:
In comes I, Cold Front, I’m a fairy made of ice [17]
And I’m afraid some people think that Cold Fronts aren’t very nice!
I freeze their assets, stuff their nose
Chill their fingers and nip their toes!
But in spite of every accusation
Cold’s great for one thing: preservation
So come good people, have no fears,
I’ll preserve that flute for years and years!

A person dressed as a Dragon, with mask and wings.

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Masked Staffmember as Fire Dragon. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

DRAGON:
You frozen cupcake, you can’t take me
I’m the meanest dragon you’ll ever see

COLD FRONT:
For a fiery dragon, you’re not too bright
I’m not the one you have to fight
I have my son with me today!
Step in, cool St. George, and clear the way!

COOL ST. GEORGE:
In comes I, Cool St. George, from preservation city
I know all the best practices to keep collections pretty
Passive cold storage systems I practically invented
With my sweet collections care, great disasters I’ve prevented.
I created sealed containers for humidity and so on
So mostly, temperature control is the first thing that I go on
And what this means is, if books and maps and even flutes are getting toasted
I’ve got to slay the Dragon before this Library is roasted!

DRAGON:
Come on, St. George, don’t talk so hot
For you don’t know who you have got
I’m not just any thug or vandal,
I can melt that flute like a used-up candle!
You say you’re a knight, you’re not even a squire
No match for a dragon with a head made of Fire!

COOL ST. GEORGE:
Pull out your purse and pay, sir!

DRAGON:
Pull out your sword and slay, sir! [19]

[They fight, and St. George is killed]

A person dressed as an ice fairy, in white with blue lips and a snowflake wand

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Jennifer Cutting as Cold Front. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

COLD FRONT:
St. George, St. George, my only son!
You’ll all be sorry when I am done!
The biggest snowball that ever was hurled
Is about to freeze the entire world!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Don’t despair, Cold Front, and don’t take fright
Perhaps he still can be set right
Here at the North Pole we have an excellent health care plan
America ought to have one, you know…anybody can
Observe: I only have to call, and a doctor will arrive
And with any luck at all, bring this dead saint back alive
And since they have yet to invent the telegraph wire
I’ll call with this 1816 amplifier.

[Raises megaphone]

Is there a doctor to be found,
To cure his deep and deadly…wound? [20]

ALL:
Wound!

DOCTOR:
Here I am, bold Doctor Joculus [21]
I’ve been watching you through my magic oculus! [22]

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
How came you to be a doctor?

DOCTOR:
By my travels.

CHAOS:
Where have you traveled?

A person in an 1816 dress, fur stole and hat, and a stethoscope.

Thea Austen as Doctor Joculus at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

DOCTOR:
The North Pole, the South Pole, the East Pole AND the West
I’ve been to the worst pole and I’ve been to the best
Memory, Knowledge, and Imagination…well that’s just who I am
So I’ve been to every Library from Timbuktu to Amsterdam
From the famed Nairobi office to the distant NavSea Sea,
Everybody knows the great doctor: Me [23]

COLD FRONT:
Hmmm, what can you cure?

DOCTOR:
I can cure Reader’s elbow, Bookbinder’s nose
Cataloger’s armpit and docent’s toes
Catalog timeouts, Search Engine Freezes
Continuing Resolution Wheezes
And all other Librarious diseases [24]

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Yes, yes, but you can’t cure a man who’s been DEAD for five minutes!

DOCTOR:
I can cure him if he’s been dead for a whole strategic planning cycle!
Will you join me on my rounds?

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Yes.
[Father C. and Doctor J. walk around the body]

Three costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. Stephen Winick as Father Christmas, Theadocia Austen as Doctor Joculus, Justina Moloney as St. George. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
So what can you do for him?

DOCTOR:
Well, I’m user centered, data driven, and digitally enabled
That means I check his pulse with my fingers and make sure his chart is labeled [25]
Enriching his experience is my strategic plan
Which means I better bring him back to life as best I can
I have these smelling salts, they are called Old Elon’s Musk [26]
It can cause a Twitter User to grow a Mastodon-like tusk
But for ordinary injuries, it takes away your pain
And it’s the best of old folk remedies for them as has been slain

[Doctor waves it under his nose; Nothing Happens]

ALL:
Quack-quack-quack-quack [27]

DOCTOR:
It’s been a few years!  Let me just read the directions!

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
I think you forgot the magic incantation

DOCTOR:
Of course!  I think I’m going to need some help with this!
[Elicits help from audience]
Engage! Inform! Inspire! [28]

[St. George Gasps, opens eyes.]
[Accordion sound and Applause as St. George rises up.]

COOL ST. GEORGE:
Look, I’m Live! At the Library! [29]

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022.. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. 

CHAOS:
Now that’s a fine thing, I say to you
My dragon managed to run him through
She killed him dead, and what do they do?
Resurrect him, to annoy us anew!

A person dressed as an elf gestures as though having an idea

Valda Morris as Linear Feet, North Pole Librarian at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” In the background is Eboni Scurlock as North Star. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

COOL ST. GEORGE:
Well now that I’m up and off the floor,
Come on Dragon, I’ll fight you some more

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
Hmm, they’re much as they were at the start of the play
So nothing has happened this long winter’s day.
If we don’t think of something astute,
The whole Library’s in danger, including the flute!

LINEAR FEET:
I have an idea, a person to call,
Her music will soothe them, one and all!
If you don’t believe in what I say,
Step in “North Star” and clear the way!

[Music flourish as “North Star” enters]

NORTH STAR:
In comes I, North Star, my friends all call me Bobbi [30]
Flute Playing is my job, and kicking butt’s my hobby!

[North Star mimes playing the flute. Nancy provides some whistle notes. We’ll see if this works in rehearsal.]

NORTH STAR:
I play the flute like rolling thunder
I play the flute with Steve Wonder!
I’ll play this Ice Flute, baby please
You know the juice is worth the squeeze
So I’ve got a plan that I think is exciting,
Let’s get them dancing to keep from fighting
Muddy boots and dirty faces
Dancers all now take your places!

[The band plays “Lilliburlero.” Dancers dance two figures, while the rest clap along, then applaud to prompt audience]

A person in a hot pink tutu with a wand topped by a star

Rehearsal for the American Folklife Center 2022 mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Eboni Scurlock as North Star. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

FATHER CHRISTMAS:
With North Star rocking her flute and song
The Dragon and Chaos couldn’t stay for long
North Star’s Playing set us at ease [31]
And the ice flute went to our deep-freeze
So we hope you all have been impressed
And think our mumming is the best
We won’t delay, lest tedium befall.

NORTH STAR:
We wish you a merry Christmas
And Happy Holidays to all!

“Gloucestershire Wassail.”
(Cast invites audience to sing along)

(Chorus): 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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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 all us jolly wassailers in. [32]

(Double Chorus)

Four people performing a song. One has an accordion, one a whistle, one a guitar.

Jennifer Cutting as Cold Front, John Fenn as Cowboy Guitarist and Pony Express Rider, Justina Moloney as Cool St. George, and Nancy Groce as Flute Player at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Notes

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. Stephen Winick as Father Christmas is holding up the Flute of Ice. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

[1] Our play was inspired by the visit paid to us earlier this year by Lizzo, the pop star and flute player. Lizzo stopped by the Library of Congress to play the crystal flute in our collections (which once belonged to President Madison), as well as a plexiglass flute. Since President Madison has been a character in our plays before, we thought of a situation involving a flute that might bring him to the North Pole again, while evoking the joy of Lizzo’s visit.  The idea for The Flute of Ice was born!

A woman blows on a clear recorder

Eboni Scurlock as North Star at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” In the background is George Thuronyi as Chaos. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[2] “Here we Come a-Wassailing” is a traditional Christmas song found in many sources. James Madison Carpenter has two versions in his collection at AFC, one from Mrs. J. T. Kendall in Grinton, Yorkshire, and one credited to “Christmas Carols, Marks and Spencer Ltd., Penny Bazarr [sic.]”  Alan Lomax also collected a beautiful version from Jean Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky, which is in our collections and quite close to our mummers’ version. You can find that version at this link. Wassailing is a tradition of going door to door, wishing neighbors good health, and being rewarded with spiced drinks known as wassail, or with other treats, or with pennies. Reflecting this, the lyrics often refer to the singers being “neighbors’ children,” which we have changed to “merry mummers.”

[3] Father Christmas is a traditional character from English folk plays. I have written two blog posts about the early roots, development, and significance of this character. You can read the first one here, and the second one here.

[4] The opening speech by Father Christmas always begins with traditional lines from mummers’ plays, but soon transitions to an introduction to the current play’s plot.

[5] Father Christmas did not traditionally live at the North Pole, but by the time of the mummers’ plays in our collections, that idea was in general circulation in British popular culture–though not mentioned in mummers’ plays themselves. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas, for example, lived there in the early 1930s when he began writing letters to his children.  I wrote more about that in the blog post at this link.

[6] The year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by about a half a degree Celsius or one degree Fahrenheit. Summer temperatures in Europe were the coldest on record between the years of 1766 and 2000. This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. I chose this year for the play not because of the climate, but because we have established in previous plays that Madison and Father Christmas first met in 1814, and that in 1815 Madison attended the North Pole Library’s Christmas Board of Trustees meeting via zoom. Thus, 1816 was the only remaining year in which he already knew Father Christmas and was also still President in December. Since the original plot called for Madison to arrive in person, the only way not to contradict an earlier play was to make the year 1816–which then suggested using the climate as a plot device.

A person encourages the audience to speak while another person stands behind her.

Thea Austen as Doctor Joculus and Stephen Winick as Father Christmas at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[7] The North Pole Library is perpetually undergoing reorganization, which is realistic for a large organization. VEMP is a humorous reference to the Library of Congress Visitor Experience Master Plan.

[8] Many staff members at the Library of Congress experienced a Windows Upgrade in the past year.

[9] James Madison, of course, is not a traditional character in mummers’ plays. But he is an important person in the history of the Library of Congress. The original script called for Madison to be a character in the play, but when our actor became ill I re-wrote it so we received the flute by messenger with a letter from Madison instead.

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. George Thuronyi as Chaos introduces the Dragon! Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

[10] The story of a flute maker sending Madison unsolicited flutes as fan mail, and the flute made of ice, are references to a real Library of Congress collection item: a crystal flute made by Claude Laurent for President James Madison in 1813 and sent to Madison probably in that year. By 1815, Laurent had yet to receive any kind of acknowledgement for the flute, and sent a letter asking if Madison had received it, and whether he liked it! The flute is part of the Dayton C. Miller Collection in the Library’s Music Division, and the letter is in the James Madison Papers in the Manuscript Division. Read more about them in this blog post!

[11] The name “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.

[12] These lines contain references to real Library of Congress facilities: the Whittall Pavilion, where some of our rarest instruments are on display, and the flute vault, where rare flutes are kept safe.

A person looks incredulous while another looks pensive

Eboni Scurlock as North Star and Valda Morris as Linear Feet, North Pole Librarian, at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[13] Chaos is not a traditional mummers’ play character, but in many ways is the ultimate adversary for librarians!

[14] “Suspicious Package Alerts” occur frequently in the Capitol Complex when packages of unknown origin are seen and reported to police. In 2019, one of the mummers suggested a scene in which a suspicious package alert occurs and police break up the play. Instead, I wrote this joke playing on the slang double meaning of “package.” It was the first line specifically written for that play, so we needed someone who would both say this line and cause damage to library collections…which led to the very general idea of “Chaos.”

[15] Evidence suggests that the climate anomaly of 1816 was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815 in Indonesia, which was then called the Dutch East Indies. This eruption was the largest in at least 1,300 years, and was perhaps exacerbated by the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Philippines. We’ve made the eruption one of Chaos’s many dirty deeds, so he was responsible for the wintry conditions of that year!

A person dressed as a dragon, with mask and wings

Masked Staffmember as Fire Dragon at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice,” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[16] The Dragon is a traditional mummers’ play character, but had become somewhat rare in the oral tradition by the time folklorists began collecting plays. Folklorist Roger D. Abrahams (one of my dissertation advisors) did collect a dragon play on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, and another on its neighboring island of Nevis, back in the 1960s. Since Valda Morris is originally from Nevis, we decided to ask her to play the role of the dragon back in 2010. But she is also so good as Linear Feet that this year we decided to have a different actor play the dragon!

A person dressed as an ice fairy, in white with blue lips and a snowflake wand

Jennifer Cutting as Cold Front at a rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice,” December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[17] Cold Front is not a traditional mummers’ play character, but is named along the lines of “Big Head” and “Clever Legs.” It is essentially the same role as “Polar Vortex” from our 2014 play, but since that idea was not much in the news this year, we changed the name.

[18] St. George is a traditional mummers’ play character. Our tradition is usually to have an actor new to mumming play the heroic St. George role. St. George also often represents a Library principle in our plays–this year’s draws on our previous character of “preservation St. George.”

[19] This rhyme of “pull out your purse and pay/pull out your sword and play” is an old traditional mummers’ play line. Since it’s a dragon, I thought “slay” was also appropriate.

[20] This mispronunciation of “wound” is a traditional mummers’ play joke, and we have made it a perennial part of our play.

[21] The Doctor is a traditional mummers’ play character. In fact, some scholars argue that the presence of a quack doctor defines a particular genre of death-and-resurrection folk play—the genre to which ours evidently belongs. We invented the name “Doctor Joculus,” however, for reasons of rhyme!

[22] An oculus was part of the proposed redesign to the Jefferson Building—we just love the word!

[23] Some of the places Dr. Joculus has traveled are references to Library facilities: the Library maintains an office in Nairobi, Kenya, and NAVCC (pronounced Navsee Sea) is the National AudioVisual Conservation Center, also known as “The Packard Campus,” in Culpeper, Virginia. “Memory, Knowledge, and Imagination” were the principles on which Thomas Jefferson organized his library, which is the historical kernel of the Library of Congress’s collections. They are now keywords in the Library’s Strategic Plan.

A person dressed in medieval garb playing a whistle

Backstage at rehearsal for the American Folklife Center mummers play “The Flute of Ice.” Nancy Groce as Flute Player. December 13, 2022. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[24] The Doctor in mummers’ plays tends to mention a series of nonsensical diseases. We adapt this list each year. (Sorry, catalogers!) In some plays, the Doctor has a highfalutin way of speaking, and claims to cure “all other vandorious diseases.” We liked the idea of “librarious diseases,” which is equally nonsensical but more library-related.

[25] User centered, data driven, and digitally enabled are components of the Library’s strategic plan.

[26] The Doctor’s cure is also often nonsensical. We thought “Old Elon’s Musk” captured the cultural moment!

[27] The Doctor’s cure not working, and the other character quacking in derision, is traditional component of mummers’ plays.

[28] Engage, Inform, and Inspire are keywords in the Library of Congress mission statement included in the Strategic Plan.

[29] Live! At the Library is the Library’s new Thursday night series of public events.

[30] North Star is not a traditional mummers’ play character. Although her presence in the play was inspired by Lizzo, she is actually based on Bobbi Humphrey, a flute player, singer, and business person best known for playing on Stevie Wonder’s classic Songs in the Key of Life. The play has several clues to her identity!

[31] “Please Set Me at Ease” is a Bobbi Humphrey song.

[32] “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, so it is contemporary with our play. 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.

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Mummers perform the final dance in their annual holiday play in the Great Hall, December 13, 2022. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. 

2 Comments

  1. Em Craig
    December 22, 2022 at 6:16 pm

    Just wonderful! What a treat!

  2. Joe Offer
    December 24, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you very much for posting this video. It was a perfect thing to watch on Christmas Eve.

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