Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rabbit Rabbit

So here we are on the first of November. Have you ever noticed that the months September through December contain the Latin names for the numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten, even though they are the ninth through twelfth months on the calendar? It has something to do with the switch from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar (or maybe the other way around), and I am sure they taught it to me in school a million years ago. But something I had never encountered, until just recently, is the tradition of saying the words "rabbit rabbit" on the first of the month. Do you know about this? Apparently, it brings good luck to the speaker for the entire month. Clearly I am way behind the times (and down on my luck), as it would seem to be a tradition that is at least 150 years old (probably more), and can be found wherever British colonization has occurred. In other words, everywhere.

The expression, like a lot of folklore, takes on a lot of variations. Some folks say "rabbit rabbit white rabbit" while others go with "rabbit rabbit rabbit". But among all of the variants, the goal seems to be the same: to bring you good luck in the month ahead. You are to make this utterance as soon as you wake on the first day of a new month, before you do anything else. Seems reasonable enough, and doesn't take a whole lot of effort to remember, so why not?

Trying to make sense of this, or any folk idiom, is a bit of a wild goose chase (see what I did there?). The connection between luck and rabbits in English tradition is strong and time-honored. Think of a lucky rabbit's foot, which brings luck to the bearer, but not so much to the bunny. Yet in Hebrew tradition rabbits are a symbol of cowardice, like how we use "chicken" in English. Hey, did you know that in Chinese and other East Asian countries they see a rabbit in the moon, and not a man? Yeah, so sorting any of this out may be an exercise in futility. Especially here in the States, where traditions have been brought over with wave after wave of immigrants, and woven into the larger fabric of American folklore. Perhaps that's why I am only just now learning about this leporid luck-generating mantra.

Seems like the "rabbit rabbit" tradition in America is strongest in New England, which is not terribly surprising, considering it is the second oldest British settlement in North America. The island of Nantucket in particular seems to be a hot-bed of rabbit-induced good luck theory, along with Cape Cod and other coastal Massachusetts towns. Nantucket is of course famous for another expression - which I won't repeat - and may or may not be about luck, depending on your perspective. Although the pilgrims arrived in 1620, it was not until the 1640s that the British got serious about colonizing the island. Peter Folger, in particular, is viewed as playing a pivotal role in this expansion. He was living in Massachusetts as early as 1635, and was the original surveyor of Nantucket for the new proprietors of the land. He also happened to be Benjamin Franklin's grandfather on his mother's side. So was Franklin and his kin responsible for the "rabbit rabbit" expression making it to our shores? Could be. Franklin is of course famous for quotes (many of which he never uttered), and among them is "diligence is the mother of good luck". That doesn't sound like someone who believes in superstitions like "rabbit rabbit" but you never know. I say you rent a Nantucket timeshare and do a little field research for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Another place to look for rabbit clues is Vermont. Specifically in the Middlebury area, which upholds many British traditions from hand furniture making to craft beer brewing. Middlebury is home to the college of the same name, and the Vermont Folklife Center. The latter states as core to its mission "preservation of the spoken word," as it pertains to Vermonters and their history. So maybe the answer to the lucky rabbit lies in their extensive archive? Problem is, there are more than 3,800 recorded interviews alone in the archive. Seems like you'd need to rent a Vermont timeshare and devote some time to the listening room. Throw in some pure maple syrup, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and world class ski resorts, and you've got yourself a serious research project. Who knows, maybe you could get a grant under the guise of furthering the pursuit of knowledge?

Other British colonial strongholds like Williamsburg, VA, Boston, MA, and Charleston, SC, are great places to look for the source of this tradition's lineage, and for great timeshare rentals. But if you want to get right to the source, check out a London timeshare and ask the locals what the "rabbit rabbit" business is all about. Just be prepared to drink some beer at a local pub as part of your fact finding. Shouldn't be a problem.

Well, I am off to perform another sacred monthly ritual: picking up my mail. As someone who travels for a living, it tends to pile up. I handle all of the important stuff online, like bills and so forth, but the junk still keeps coming. I reduced it some by joining that Do Not Mail list, but new offers keep coming to take the place of the old ones. Here's a tip I picked up a while back for any unsolicited mail that comes with a prepaid return envelope. Take the offer and cut it up into thousands of little pieces (I use my crosscut shredder) and stick it in the return envelope and mail it back. Works every time.

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