more pearls than whine

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Rabbit!

Family Traditions:
Ever since I can remember, our family has had a highly competitive tradition on the first day of the month. The first one to say "Rabbit!" wins. There is no prize except the winning itself. It is usually done in great fun.

I've asked how it started. My dad said my mother made it up (she was born in 1921). I didn't really buy this explanation, but reserved judgment. Some years ago I came across a reference in a novel set in England about saying "White Rabbit" on the first of the month as you were sweeping the debris out the front door (if I remembered correctly). It was supposed to get rid of any evil spirits. It's still a curious tradition to me. A couple of years ago I picked up a book on English folklore to see if I could find anything there. This is what I found in Oxford's A Dictionary of English Folklore under rabbits:

"A fairly widespread modern custom among children was first recorded in 1909:
My two daughters are in the habit of saying 'Rabbits!" on the first day of each month. The word must be spoken aloud, and be the first word said in the month. It brings luck for that month. Other children I find use the same formula .... Other versions, common between the wars, use the formulas 'White rabbits!" or 'Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits!', and some add that one must say 'Hares!' or 'Black rabbits!' last thing the previous night."

I think it's origins probably go farther back.
Instead of "rabbiting" someone right after midnight, we usually do it first thing in the morning. In the interests of fair play and a satisfying win, it's nice to see the white's of their eyes. You try to sashay into the room as if you aren't concerned about a thing, quickly look up, and blurt out a resounding
"Rabbit!"
Sometimes you make it first, sometimes you don't, but the closer the win, the more satisfying it is.

I just used my favorite search engine -- Google -- to see what else is out there on "Rabbit!" I used the words -- rabbit first month. Wow. There are a lot of rabbiters out there, and plenty of white rabbiters and bunniers (which doesn't seem "right," but it's someone else's tradition).

My 29 year-old daughter has gotten her 'boyfriend' into rabbiting. Since they are both highly competitive, it's gotten pretty ugly sometimes. They're trying to inject more fun and less fierce. It's that or counseling.

My 13-year-old nephew will call his grandpa from 3 hours away on the morning of the first to "Rabbit!" him. When my dad thinks his granddaughter might be calling, he answers the phone, "Rabbit!" and hopes he doesn't need to explain to a stranger. So I guess we only rabbit once within a household, but we set up new rabbiting partners ... anyone we can get to participate in this bit of fun.

I think I'll post this after midnight so that it's my first word for March. But I'll still wait till morning to get my dad (he's 84). Sometimes he wins ... fair and square.

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