I forget on what holiday it was that the Anticks, another exploded remnant of colonial manners, used to perambulate the town. They have ceased to do it now, but I remember them as late as 1782.Folks who know about English folklore have no doubt recognized these "Anticks" as traditional Christmas mummers.
They were a set of the lowest blackguards, who, disguised in filthy clothes and ofttimes with masked faces, went from house to house in large companies, and, bon gré, mal gré, obtruding themselves everywhere, particularly into the rooms that were occupied by parties of ladies and gentlemen, would demand themselves with great insolence. I have seen them at my father’s, when his assembled friends were at cards, take possession of a table, seat themselves on rich furniture and proceed to handle the cards, to the great annoyance of the company.
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 of 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 diesHe calls for a doctor, who soon appears, and enacts the part so well that the wounded man revives.
A doctor must be had."
In this way they continue for half an hour; and it happened not unfrequently that the house would be filled by another gang when these had departed. There was no refusing admittance. Custom had licensed these vagabonds to enter even by force any place they chose.
Such misrule was one of the reasons the Puritan founders of Massachusetts were so down on Christmas (along with the little matter of the date not being mentioned in the Bible). By the time of Breck's childhood, however, such disapproval no longer prevented young men from enjoying this form of begging and theater.
I haven't found any mentions of Anticks in Boston before the Revolutionary War, so I suspect the tradition took hold in those years, that it wasn't a relic of colonial times but actually a new import from Britain. That was probably partly due to the shake-up of society that the war brought about, and partly to the end of Pope Night as a holiday when young Bostonians could dress up, cavort, and demand coins from the upper class.