Jack o' Lent

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In Tudor and Jacobean London, this was the name for gaunt puppets made of straw, rags, and herring skins, personifying the Lenten fast, which boys set up on Ash Wednesday and pelted with heavy sticks, and finally burnt before Easter. He could also be impersonated by living actors; a London pageant just before Easter 1553 showed a richly dressed Lord of Misrule, symbol of the coming feast, contrasted with Jack on his deathbed, with a ‘priest’ shriving him and a ‘wife’ begging doctors to save his life for £1,000.

In Oxfordshire in the 17th century, schoolchildren breaking up for the Easter holidays went from house to house rattling wooden clappers and singing:Harings harings white and redTen a penny Lent's deadRise dame and give an eggOr else a piece of baconOne for Peter two for PaulThree for Jack a Lents allAway Lent away

. If they got none, they would ‘commonly cut the latch of ye door, or stop the keyhole wth dirt, or leave some more nasty token of displeasure’ (White Kennett's note in Aubrey, 1686/1880: 161–2).

Effigies were made, paraded, and burnt at Polperro (Cornwall) early in the 19th century; the image was called ‘Jack-o-Lent’, but popularly supposed to represent Judas. So was the effigy which used to be set up at Boston (Lincolnshire) in the 1920s, and pelted with muck from Ash Wednesday till the end of Lent (Sutton, 1997: 55). In some country districts, a jackalent is a scarecrow.

Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 39–40;Hutton, 1996: 172–3.

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