Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Lord of Misrule

Christmas celebrations are not always sacred and solemn, as we well know, but one of the oddest practices was once commonplace in old England where the Lord of Misrule reigned at this time of year.

Cities, towns, and universities across the country appointed these public officials for the 12 days of Christmas. “His duties,” said a 19th Century historian, “were to lead and direct the multifarious revels of the season.” It was no trifling job, either; the Lord of Misrule of London in 1635 spent 2,000 pounds – nearly $500,000 today – on public merriment.

One of the lord’s first official acts each year was to absolve all people of their wisdom, but to demand that they be just wise enough to make fools of themselves. He then set about encouraging “reveling, epicurisme, wantonesse, idlenesse, dancing, drinking, stage-plaies, masques, and carnall pompe and jollity,” according to one contemporary critic.

In an era with no shortage of misrulers in the world, it’s a wonder the ancient office hasn’t been resurrected.

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