April 2017

Pace-egging and Egg Rolling Andrew Colborne

At this time of year Easter eggs make their ap- pearance in various forms, but among them, pace- egging is not very well known or understood these days. The meaning of ‘pace’ in this context is not speed; rather, it is thought to come from Old English pasch meaning Passover or Latin pascha meaning Easter.

As with wassailing (see The Window, Dec/Jan) there are two sorts of pace -egging. Hundreds of years ago folks in fancy dress called pace-eggers would perform a kind of mummers play using the egg to symbolise spring- time and re-birth, while begging for eggs and oth- er gifts from local resi- dents and onlookers. The play is still performed in the north of England with the characters and plot quite similar to the Christ- mastide versions (Ibid.). A mock combat takes place whereby a hero is killed by a villain, who is brought back to life by a quack doctor. One dif- ference is the inclusion of a fool called ‘Old Tosspot’ who rejoices in the proceedings but seems otherwise a bit dissipated! From the classic album Frost and Fire by The Watersons (Topic, 1965):

Here’s one two three jolly lads all in one mind We are come a-pace-egging and I hope you’ll prove kind And I hope you’ll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer For we’ll come no more nigh you until the next year

And of Old Tosspot: He’s a valiant old man and he wears a pigtail And all his delight is a-drinking mulled ale

The other activity sometimes referred to as pace- egging is actually egg rolling, either downhill on grassy slopes or on the level with the eggs pro- pelled otherwise. In the nineteenth century, Christians such as Jacob Grimm and his followers pointed out that the symbolic egg was very ap- propriate to celebrations of the Resurrection of Christ, thus helping to merge Christianity with ancient pagan rituals such as the feast of Eos- tre.

President Barack Obama cheers on a young child as

she rolls her egg toward the finishing line on Monday, April 13, 2009, during the White House Easter Egg Roll. Photo by Pete Souza.

These days the tradition usually involves chil- dren painting boiled eggs in a creative, col- ourful fashion. The event which takes place at Shotover Country Park in Oxford on Easter Monday is typical. In a village fete atmosphere, children bring their painted eggs and display them for all-comers to admire the artistry and hard work on show. Af-

ter prizes have been announced you are allowed to save your egg, or otherwise take your entries to a downhill egg-rolling competition nearby. The first one to reach the bottom of the hill wins a prize. Finally, there is a ‘demolition derby’, whereby the eggs are rolled again and again until only one unbroken egg is left!

Further afield, seasonal egg-rolling takes place in other European countries and in the United States. At the White House the Easter Egg Roll is an annual event, sometimes attended by the Presi- dent; Barack Obama attended his first egg roll in 2009. The event itself is a race, which takes place on a grassy track with children pushing their eggs along with a long-handled spoon. Certainly, this occasion is something for President Trump to look forward to….


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