For example, during the 1700s groups of laborers and lower class men would don disguises and travel door-to-door in Boston at Christmas time performing skits and asking for money. Bostonians called these performers the Anticks. Of course, the wealthy people whose houses they visited didn't want to see the skits or give out any holiday cheer, but they felt powerless to do anything for fear of reprisal. Better to hand out some beer and coins than to find all your windows broken in the morning!
Samuel Breck, a wealthy Bostonian who lived in a large house on the corner of Winter and Tremont streets, recalled visits from the Anticks when he was a child.
The only way to get rid of them was to give them money, and listen patiently to a foolish dialogue between two or more of them. One them would cry out, "Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire, put your hands in your pockets and give us our desire." When this was done and they had received some money, a kind of acting took place. One fellow was knocked down, and lay sprawling on the carpet, while another bellowed out,
See, there he lies
But ere he dies
A doctor must be had.
He calls for a doctor, who soon appears, and enacts the part so well that the wounded man revives.
Although Breck doesn't mention this, the Boston Anticks were actually performing a mummer's play, a centuries old form of British seasonal folk-theater. They were most likely performing of the many skits about St. George where he is slain and then resurrected magically.
|British mummers, from this site.|
Samuel Breck had a very "Bah! Humbug!" attitude towards the Anticks, and many other upright citizens felt the same way. But although they ostensibly shared Breck's opinion, the police claimed it was hard to arrest the Anticks because they wore disguises, and police officials suggested private citizens arrest any Anticks who harassed them. It sounds to me like the police really had little interest in shutting the Anticks down and were just passing the buck. Who knows? Maybe they had friends or family members who were part of the Anticks, or just enjoyed seeing the wealthy people squirm.
This information comes from Stephen Nissenbaum's excellent book The Battle for Christmas. If you are interested in the history of Christmas in America this book is it!
Have a great Christmas, and if any Anticks come to your house make sure to give them a little cash.