Breikocher Josef: The Medieval Origins of a Grotesque Comic Motif in the German Christmas Play
By Martin W. Walsh
Paper presented at the 2004 SITM conference in Elx (2004)
Introduction: In the 1557-59 supplement to Georg Wickram’s popular collection of comic stories, Das Rollwagenbüchlin (The Little Stagecoach Book) there is a tale entitled Von einem Weyhenacht kind und dem Joseph, wie er im ein müsslin kochet inn der kirchen und einanderen in der kirchen schlügen (About a Christ Child and a Joseph, how he cooked up some pap for him in the church and how in the church they slugged each other.) I give a translation of the complete tale below:
In the bishopric of Cologne it happened once at Christmastide, on Christmas Eve, that for a cradle-rocking of the Christ Child that same evening, they appointed a large choirboy to be the child and they laid this Jesus Child in a cradle. And so the Mary rocked him and the child began to cry lustily. Since he would not be quiet, the Joseph ran over quickly and wanted to cook the Baby Jesus some pap or porridge and feed him so he would hush up. But as quickly as he cooked, the more the child cried. As he would not in any way keep quiet, the good Joseph took a spoonful of hot mush, ran with it to the cradle and jammed the spoon with the hot stuff down the child’s throat and burnt the child’s mouth so badly that he left off bawling and whining. The child quickly rushed out of the cradle, grabbed Joseph by the hair, and they began to beat each other. But the child was too strong for the good Joseph, for he threw him to the floor and went at him in such a way that the people who were in the church had to come to Joseph’s aid.
We see that the humor of the disastrous Christmas pageant has been with us for quite some time.