Christmas is a time of tradition and ritual, such as singing “We wish you a merry Christmas” to the Christmas pudding as it emerges, alight, into the dining room… (OK, so that’s a personal tradition, but I have only just found this out. I thought everyone did this up until last year!)
Every day until Christmas Day, we will explain where and why a Christmas tradition came about. Today, pantomimes!
Pantomimes | Greece
Let’s really have a think about pantomimes… How weird are they!? There’s cross dressing, audience participation, bizarre make-up and classic lines that are used no matter what the story is, such as “He’s behind you!” (Why the characters are unable to turn round in a timely or accurate fashion, I will never know.)
The word pantomime is Greek and roughly translates to “imitating actor”. Unsurprisingly, this genre started in ancient Greece and was very popular in Rome too, although it has always been looked down upon by the literary snobs for its base humour and general silliness! Over time the pantomime has evolved, due to various European influences, into what we see today.
But for many years certain elements have remained the same, and some of these elements are what tie panto to Christmas time. For instance, the gender role reversal occurs because during ancient Roman Saturnalia festivals (which took place between 17th and 23rd December), it was usual for the natural order of things to be reversed. So kings would become paupers and men would become women etc!
Traditionally, pantomimes began their run on what we know to be Boxing Day, to celebrate midwinter and other winter festivals. As time has gone on, however, pantomimes have started to show before Christmas, as Christmas is now the most prominent winter festival.
Photo credits: anemoneprojectors