What jarps, taps, shackles and rolls it way through Easter?
An egg, of course.
Traditional Easter egg sports include egg tapping, egg rolling, egg dancing and above all, egg fights.
You certainly couldn’t make a Medieval Easter without breaking some eggs.
The most famous and oldest egg fight was in Chester Cathedral in the Middle Ages.
The bishop and the dean, well armed themselves with eggs, threw them at the Easter service choristers.
They were well armed too!
Afterward, everyone went to wash before dining together – on eggs.
In another medieval version, priests threw a hard-boiled egg to the choirboys.
They would then toss the egg between each other until the clock struck 12.
The last boy in possession was rewarded with keeping it.
Egg tapping, or also known as egg fight, egg knocking, egg pacqueing, egg boxing, egg picking, or egg jarping is a traditional Easter game.
In English folk traditions, the game has variously been known as “shackling”, “jarping” or “dumping”.
Try to break your competitor’s egg by tapping it with your own egg.
Without breaking yours, of course.
The history of cheating in the game is as old as the game.
Eggs with cement, alabaster and even marble cores have been reported!
In North America, In New Amsterdam in the 1650s egg cracking was done on Easter Monday. All the children cracked hard boiled eggs a game, winner keeps both eggs.
The World Jarping Championships still takes place every Easter in the Hearts of Oak pub in Peterlee.
Competitors each select a boiled egg which are bashed together until one of them cracks.
Strict rules are in place to ensure no cheating which can include dipping eggs in beer, painting them with nail varnish or holding them against radiators.
Two-time egg jarping world champion Jack Smedley confirmed: “There isn’t any special skill involved.”
In the United Kingdom, the hundreds-year-old tradition of rolling decorated eggs down hills is known as “pace-egging”.
Traditionally, the eggs were wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give a mottled gold appearance.
The children competed to see who could roll their egg the furthest.
An old Lancashire legend says the broken eggshells should be carefully crushed afterward or risk being stolen and used as boats by witches!
The White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll goes back to the 1800s when First Lady Dolley Madison invited local children to an egg-rolling event on the grounds of the Capitol Building.
The tradition continued through 1876, with kids returning year after year to race their hard-boiled eggs down Capitol Hill.
Stodgy old Congress, however, voted to ban the children from using their grasses “as play-grounds or otherwise.”(Boo!)
Then, in 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes opened up the White House gates and invited local children to continue their egg sports on the lawn.
The event was a hit and the tradition has continued ever since.
Pace Egg Plays
If the Easter eggs weren’t eaten, they might be given to out to pace-eggers.
These fantastically dressed actors processed through the streets singing These pace-egging songs and collected money before performing traditional Pace Egg Plays.
While their origin is unknown, some versions of the plays have undoubtedly been performed over many hundreds of years.
In the tradition of medieval mystery plays, St George smites challengers like Bold Slasher, the Black Prince of Paradine and Hector.
Once widespread across the country, they are now only practiced in a few parts of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, having largely died out after the First World War.
In the egg dance, eggs are laid on the ground or floor and the goal is to dance among them damaging as few as possible.
Another form of egg dancing was a springtime game depicted in the painting above.
The goal was to roll an egg out of a bowl while keeping within a circle drawn by chalk and then flip the bowl to cover the egg.
The rule was the feet couldn’t touch the other objects placed on the floor.
An early reference to an egg dance was at the wedding of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy on Easter Monday of 1498:
Then the great egg dance, the special dance of the season, began. A hundred eggs were scattered over a level space covered with sand, and a young couple, taking hands, began the dance.
If they finished without breaking an egg they were betrothed, and not even an obdurate parent could oppose the marriage.
The hornpipe was one of the dances performed as an egg dance. Sometimes it was danced blindfolded.
For example, the famous United States hornpipe dancer John Durang performed one of his hornpipes blindfolded on a scene covered with eggs.
Julian Mates in his book The American Stage before 1800 notes that blindfolded egg dances were popular musical act both in Europe and the United States during the 18th century.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.