Gerald's Rabbitings

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A friend of mine taking a folklore course needed some folklore, so I wrote up an old family custom and out of curiosity did a Web search for the keyword and ran into your site.

Here's what I wrote for her...


"Rabbit Rabbit!"

It has been the custom in my family, for as long as I remember, for family members to greet one another on the first day of each month by saying "Rabbit Rabbit!" To say 'greet one another,' however, doesn't quite describe the custom. There is something like a contest as to who can say it first.

"Rabbit Rabbit!" can only be said once between each pair of relatives, and only on the first day of the month, and it goes only in one direction: If I say "Rabbit Rabbit!" to my brother, he cannot say it back to me; instead, he can only say something like "You got me (or 'You Rabbit Rabbited me'), but I'll get you next month." "Rabbit Rabbit!" does not have to be spoken, but can be written in a letter (lately in an email letter) or left on a phone answering machine.

We do not do this for a particular reason. The custom does not bring good luck or forefend bad; it has no ostensible purpose or utility whatever. It does of course fulfill the social function of keeping various family members in touch, but that's not why we do it. We always do it simply because we've always done it.

This custom is observed in my mother's family, the Seymours, but not in my father's, the Stones. I believe it originated with my mother's father, Frederick Seymour, who emigrated to Long Island, New York, from Maidenhead, England, before 1918, when my mother was born.

I have heard of a similar custom: saying either "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit," or "White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit," as the first words you utter in any month, to bring on good luck*, but I have never heard of saying it to someone else. I did once read that a very similar phrase -- "rabbed rabbed" or some such -- was a dialect greeting in western England or perhaps in Cornish, but I can't remember the details. Seymour is supposed to have originally been spelled St. Maurice or St. Moritz, and the family to have come over from Normandy with William I and settled in Wales, but that may be an old wives' tale.


- Gerald on 11/12/1997


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