Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Outdoor Games - Ring Around the Rosie

When British American colonials began sailing across the 17C Atlantic to the New World, they brought with them memories of games played for centuries in England & on the European continent.  Games brought people together.  Many of these indoor & outdoor games morphed & changed a bit in the colonies.  Some disappeared, but many others remain today in one form or another.

It is unknown what the earliest version of the rhyme was or when it began. Many incarnations of the game have a group of children form a ring, dance in a circle around a person, and stoop or curtsy with the final line. The slowest child to do so is faced with a penalty or becomes the "rosie" (literally: rose tree, from the French rosier) and takes their place in the center of the ring.

Variations, corruptions, and vulgarized versions were noted to be in use long before the earliest printed publications. One such variation was dated to be in use in Connecticut in the 1840s.  (see: Newell, William Wells (1883-4). Games and Songs of American Children. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 127–8.)

Common British versions include:
Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

Cows in the meadows 
Eating buttercups
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all jump up.

Common American versions include:
Ring-a-round the rosies,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

In the 19C, some speculated that the words to the “Ring Around the Rosy” have their origin in English history. The historical period dates back to the Great Plague of London in 1665 (bubonic plague) or even before when the first outbreak of the Plague hit England in the 1300's. The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs (or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. The term "ashes, ashes" refers to the cremation of the dead bodies! The death rate was over 60% and the Great Fire of London only halted the plague in 1666, which killed the rats, which carried the disease, which was transmitting, via water sources. The English version of "Ring around the rosy" replaces Ashes with (A-tishoo, A-tishoo) as violent sneezing was another symptom of the disease. Players hold hands in the shape of a circle. While they walk in a circle, they sing or chant…. Ring around the rosy A pocketful of posies "Ashes, Ashes" We all fall down!