England’s Seasonal Music and Dance (2 semesters)

Seasonal secular holidays from England have been exported to Canada and many other nations. Originally tied to sacred Christian observances, many of them have taken on a life of their own. A case for adverse consequences has been made by neo-colonial theorists, but the debate does not change the reality of the many countries who have decided to observe English high days and their European counterparts. However the temporal and geographical passages of these calendrical celebrations have engendered confusion and even dissatisfaction. One only has to recall the ambivalence felt by many as they struggle with the commercialisation of Christmas. This course will introduce the latest research in English seasonal observances using cultural studies and critical theory, especially the role of Misrule as articulated by Mikhail Bakhtin. Further avenues of transgression and transmission defined by Victor Turner, Marcel Mauss, Stuart Hall and Pierre Bourdieu, will also be investigated and illuminated.

Two Semesters

The course will stretch out over the length of a Fall and Spring Semester, encompassing English high days such as Hallowe’en and Christmas in the first half, Easter and May Day in the second. Each lecture will feature explorations of critical theory and critical studies during the first half, and workshops focusing on specific English high day vernacular (folk) performance arts in the second half. During the latter component, students will participate in folk culture performance arts relevant to each seasonal celebration. The samples will consist of folk theatre (mummers plays), folk dance (morris dance), and folk songs created for seasonal celebrations such as the Wassail and May Morn genres. As the course proceeds through the seasons, from preparation to celebration, the students will come to an understanding of their personal place in these observances, moving beyond passive observation to active awareness and agency. There will be brief excursions to various countries to understand the national variations of seasonal celebrations, and contributions from student’s experiences will be a crucial part of the classroom sessions.


Simpson, Jacqueline and Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford UP)

English Seasonal Customs: A Brief Bibliography

Alford, Violet (1952) An Introduction to English Folklore [in relation to the English seasonal calendar] (G. Bell and sons)

Whitlock, Ralph (1978) A Calendar of Country Customs (Batsford)

Strong, Roy and Julia Trevelyan Oman, editors (1982) English Year: Personal Selection from Chambers’ (1869) “Book of Days”(Webb & Bower)

Laroque, Francois (1991) Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Processional Stage (Cambridge University Press; from Shakespeare et la fete, 1988, translated by Janet Lloyd)

Hutton, Ronald (1996) The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in England (Oxford University Press)

Roud, Steve (2006) The English Year: a month-by-month guide to the nation’s customs and festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night (Penquin Books)

English Seasonal Music: A Select Bibliography

Percy Dearmer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw, editors (1928, revised 1964) The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press), supplemented by Clifford Bartlett, Hugh Keyte, Andrew Parrott, editors (1992) New Oxford Book of Carols (OUP).

Lloyd, Albert L. (1967) “The Songs of Ceremony and Occasion,” in Folk Song in England (International Publishers), pp. 134-167.

Kennedy, Peter and Alan Lomax (1971) accompanying notes for “Songs and Ceremonies,” in Folk Songs of Great Britain LP set, Volume 9 (Caedmon TC1224).

Copper, Bob (1976) A Song for Every Season ( Heinemann).

Palmer, Roy (1979) “The Life of a Man: Seasons and Ceremonies,” in English Country Songbook (Omnibus) pp. 214-241.

Hall, Reg (1998) accompanying notes for “You lazy lot of bone-shakers: Songs and dance tunes of seasonal events” in Voice of the People CD set, Volume 16 (Topic TSCD 666).

Ashman, Gordon and Isabella, editors (1998), West Gallery Harmony: Carols & Celebrations (West Gallery Music Association)

Russell, Ian (1999), booklet notes for English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines, CD (Smithsonian Folkways SFWCD 40476).

Fall Semester – Hallowe’en and Christmas

Week 1 The Commodification and Commercialisation of Seasonal Holidays

Belk, Russell (1993) “Materialism and the Making of the Modern American Christmas,” in Unwrapping Christmas, edited by Daniel Miller, pp. 75-104

Workshop: survey of students’ favourite Hallowe’en memories and Christmas songs (from traditional carols to pop icons like Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas)

Week 2 An Overview of the English Seasonal High Days

Roud, Steve (2006) “Introduction,” and “The Calendar,” in The English Year.

Workshop: “Thousands or more” traditional communal song

Week 3 Seasonal Celebrations in English History

Hutton, Ronald (1996) “Conclusions,” in The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in England, pp. 408-427.

Workshop: Malpas (Cornwall) Wassail

Week 4 Custom and Tradition

Handler & Linnekin (1982) “Tradition, Genuine or Spurious?” In The Journal of American Folklore 97, no. 385 (1984): 273-290.

Workshop: Apple-Tree Wassail (southern England)

Week 5 The Rites of Season as “Rites of Passage”

Van Gennep, Arnold (1960) “Introduction” and chapters 1 to 3, The Rites of Passage, pp. 1-40.

Workshop: Here We Come a Wassailing

Week 6 Homo Ludens: Human Beings at Play

Huizinga, Johan (1950) “Nature and Significance of play as a cultural phenomenon,” in Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture, pp. 1-27.

Workshop: Souling Songs 

Week 7 Hallowe’en and All Souls Day

Rogers, Nicholas (2002) “Halloween at the Millenium,” in Halloween from Pagan Ritual to Party Night, pp. 158-172

Workshop: Souling Play (Antrobus)

Week 8 Soulcaking

Green, A.E. (1980) “Popular Drama and the [soulcaking] Mummers Play,” in Performance and politics in popular drama, pp. 139-66.

Workshop; Souling Play (Antrobus)

Week 9 Human Play as a Liminal Experience 

Turner, Victor (1987) “Liminality and Communitas,” in the Anthropology of Performance, pp. 94-130.

Workshop: Country and Contra Dance

Week 10 Misrule and Human Play

Stallybrass, Peter et al (1986) The Poetics and Politics of Transgression, pp. 1-27.

Workshop: Mummers Play and Molly Morris Dancing

Week 11 Christmas and Misrule and Rational Recreation

Nissenbaum, Stephen (1996) “the Parlor and the Street,” in The Battle for Christmas, pp. 90-131.

Workshop: Mummers Play and Molly Morris Dancing

Week 12 Christmas Mummers

Nowlan, Alden (1984) “Will Ye Let the Mummers in?” in Stories, pp. 60-75.

Workshop: The [Newfoundland] Mummers Song (1993)

Week 13 Christmas celebrations in dance and song

Hardy, Thomas (1872/1974), Chapters 3-8, in Under the Greenwood Tree pp. 49-82.

Workshop: West Gallery carols, Sir Roger de Coverley country dance

Spring Semester – Easter, and May Day

Week 1/14 Plough Monday 

Howkins, Alun and Linda Merricks (1990) “The Ploughboy and the Plough Play,” in Folk Music Journal, volume 6, number 2, pp. 187-208

Workshop: survey of students’ favourite Easter memories and Springtime songs (from ribald May Day chants to school yard games)

Week 2/15 Twelfth Night, Shakespeare and the Rude Mechanicals

 Taylor, Anthony Brian (1990) “Golding’s Ovid, Shakespeare’s ‘Small Latin’, and the Real Object of Mockery in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ [in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream],” in Shakespeare Survey Volume 42: Shakespeare and the Elizabethans

Workshop: Plough Play

Week 3/16 Mardi Gras and Carnival

Turner, Victor (1987) “Carnival, Ritual and Play in Rio de Janeiro,” in Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival, edited by Allesandro Falassi, pp. 74-90.

Workshop: Samba band and dance (Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro)

Week 4/17 The Study of Festivals 

Falassi, Allesandro (1982) “Festival: Definition and Morphology,” in Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival, edited by Allesandro Falassi, pp. 1-12.

Workshop: Pancake Songs

Week 5/18 Those Below Rule Those Above: The World Turned Upside Down

Babcock, Barbara “Introduction,” in The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society, pp. 13-38.

Workshop: Molly Morris Dancing and Feast Dancing

Week 6/19 Those Below Rule Those Above: Pay for Play

Cohen, David and Ben Greenwood (1981), “‘The Transparent Object of Begging’ on Trial, in The Buskers, pp. 131-54.

Workshop: Cotswold Morris Dance

Week 7/20 Misrule Mockery

Denith, Simon (2000) “Approaches to Parody,” in Parody, pp. 1-38.

Workshop: Playford Country Dance

Week 8/21 Misrule and Rule: Rational Recreation

Malcomson, Robert (1973) “The undermining of popular recreations,” in Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700-1850,  pp. 89-117.

Workshop: vernacular dance music repertoire and instruments 

Week 9/22 May Day

Thompson, Flora (1939) “May Day,” in Lark Rise to Candleford, pp. 201-208.

Workshop: May Day songs

Week 10/23 “Merrie England” May Day

Judge, Roy (1993) “Fact and Fancy in Tennyson’s ‘May Queen’ and in Flora Thompson’s ‘May Day’, in Aspects of British Calendar Customs, pp. 167-184.

Workshop: Robin Hood play

Week 11/24 Merrie England” May Day in New Westminster 

Stanfield, Norman (2006) “May Day in New Westminster, British Columbia,” in Canadian Folk Music Bulletin, volume 39, number 4, pp. 1-6.

Workshop: New Westminster May Day music and dance

Week 12/26 Neo-paganism and May Day 

Ackerman, Robert (2002) “J.G. Frazer [and The Golden Bough],” in The Myth and Ritual School: J.G. Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists, pp. 45-65.

Workshop: Songs about May

Week 13/27 May Day in the Imaginary and Real Village

Boyes, Georgina (1993) “The folk and why they were replaced: the background to a cultural transfer,” in The Imagined Village, pp. 22-40.

Workshop: Whitsun songs

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