The Times – How panto became part of Christmas<br/> Past Notes: look at Widow Twankey and think of the Lords of Misrule, by Graham Stewart

It is worth asking how magic beans, Mother Goose and the Widow Twankey joined the supporting act to Christianity’s greatest festival. After all, panto is not a tradition that can be easily attributed to the warm-hearted genius of Charles Dickens, the brand awareness of Coca-Cola or the Teutonic eccentricity of Prince Albert.

It harks back to customs of the medieval and Tudor Christmas that rejoiced in subverting, or at least sending up, authority. In part, this anarchic spirit echoed the Roman Saturnalia custom in which masters pretended to serve their slaves. It may also be a wry acknowledgment of how a child, born in a manger, held sway over temporal rulers.

From small parishes to the Inns of Court and the royal court, “Lords of Misrule” were appointed. Their task was to make a mockery of everything conducive to normal social order. This might involve staging silly plays, organising boisterous revels or making fools of authority figures. …

During the 17th century, the Puritans also put a stop to the subversive spirit that until then accompanied the 12 days of Christmas.

Puritans. Them again.