Pace Egging

Pace Egging

In past centuries children or young men in northern England and Scotland went pace egging on Easter Monday. The word pace comes from Pascha, the ancient Greek word for Easter which also became the Latin term for the observance. The word Pascha in turn came from Pesach, the Aramaic pronunciation of the Hebrew word for Passover. Pace egging was also once practiced in Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands on various days during the Easter season.

Egg Payments and Egg Begging

In medieval and Renaissance times eggs were a valuable source of food and thus sometimes used in lieu of money to pay certain fees. In the thirteenth century English peasants brought eggs to the lord of the local manor at Easter. People also used eggs to make their Easter offering to the church. Country people continued to do so until the eighteenth century in some districts, while the well-to-do offered cash.

The English pace-egging customs familiar to folklorists grew out of older egg-begging customs. These egg-begging customs can be traced back to the sixteenth century. In those days humble people practiced various kinds of begging customs at Christmas time, the object of which was to secure enough food to enjoy a Christmas feast. In some parts of England similar customs spread to Easter and the several days preceding it, when youngsters would go door-to-door reciting folk rhymes encouraging householders to donate an egg, a bit of bacon, a wedge of cheese, or other savory item to their Easter feast. Contemporary American children practice a similar kind of door-todoor begging at Halloween.

By the eighteenth century inhabitants of some regions of England called this custom "peace egging," a variant of "pace egging." In some places pace eggers sported homemade costumes. These costumes consisted of burned cork smeared across the face, paper streamers pinned to one's clothes, or a simple mask. In other regions youngsters improved the costumes somewhat and added a bit of a folk play revolving around such comic characters as Old Tosspot, Lord Nelson, and Betsy Brownbags. Thus pace egging came to resemble Christmas time mumming, another begging custom whose participants disguised their identities with masks and costumes.

Pace egging was particularly popular in northwestern England, where pace-egg plays quickly caught on. The lads who participated in this custom were known as "pace eggers" or "jolly boys." The following traditional pace-egging verses reflect the food-collecting concerns that inspired the invention of the custom:

We are two-three jolly boys, all of one mind, We are come a-pace-egging, and we hope you'll prove kind. We hope you'll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer, And we'll come no more a-pace-egging until another year . Please, good mistress, an Easter egg, Or a flitch of bacon Or a little trundle cheese Of your own making. (Hole, 151)

Please, Mrs. Whiteleg, Please to give us an Easter egg If you won't give us an Easter egg Your hens will all lay addled eggs, And your cocks all lay stones. (Hole, 151)

Around the mid-nineteenth century many pace eggers switched their activities to Easter Monday. By this time the custom served less as a means of obtaining food for an Easter feast and more as a way of having fun and enjoying a few free drinks. During the early twentieth century the custom died out in most parts of Britain. In Yorkshire and Cheshire a few groups of children may still present pace-egg plays on Easter Monday, though some folklorists view this as a self-conscious attempt to revive an essentially extinct folk custom.

Further Reading

Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Howard, Alexander. Endless Cavalcade. London, England: Arthur Barker, 1964. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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"Pace Egging" would lead you believe it was an Easter song', was the comment at Gayle (Iveson 1958: 512).
Early in this file is a handwritten list titled 'Pace egging Play N.W.