"And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing, to drive the dark away."

This is the most magical time of year, when the days darken and the nights grow cold. Through the centuries, man has sought to keep a light burning in the great darkness, a flame of hope for the coming spring. Christmastide is swift upon us, and with it all the merrymaking that lights this month afire. One of the most beautiful traditions of this season, unfortunately becoming more obscure these days, is morris dancing, and in particular, the sword dance.
Morris dancing is one of the most ancient forms of English folk dancing, thought to have originated in the old Anglo-Saxon culture. It is danced by a group of men, wearing bells on their legs (the sound was said to awaken the spirit) and often carrying hankerchiefs or staves of wood. An interesting aside: William Kepte, famous for being one of the origional Shakespearian actors, was also known in his time for being the first to morris dance for nine days straight, from London to Norwich.
Thus, throughout England's history, when the darkness decended and the wind tore at the chimney, the morris men would gather to dance. The sword dance was usually performed within a St. George mummer's play, when the dancers would weave their swords into a star and behead St. George so that he might rise again, significant of the coming death and resurrection of the Christ child, and also of the death of the old year and birth of the new.
The morris traditions are still preserved in small groups, or "sides" throughout England and North America. Click, here for the Longsword dance as performed by the Bridgetown Morris Men, our local morris side. And for variety, here is the rapper sword dance, performed by the Black Swan Rappers of Warick.

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