The Keg of Butter, or don’t trust anyone at Christmas.

by Scott
Fox and wolf and the keg of butter

It’s the time of year when we are around family and we celebrate the holidays and the winter moves in.  As the winter comes fast and hard we huddle with our nearest and dearest and folk we might not have seen for a long time. A time where we share stories round the fire safe in the warmth of family …. and i say this now … don’t trust anyone at Christmas.

One of my own stories of this time of year, goes back to when I was around 7 or 8. I recall a cozy house and a christmas tree of plastic that got dragged out each year, the decorations having to go up in a certain order and finally the chocolate would come out. There were always a chocolate ration on at the holidays, we weren’t allowed very much “made us hyper” my ma said. That is apart from chocolate coins hanging on the christmas tree in those little net bags. I remember them well …

As the holidays raged on the adults left us to our own devices (mostly), there would be less and less of the chocolates left hanging on the tree, it was a mystery to me who had been eating them, but I figured it had been the old folks, I counted them daily waiting until I could have some off the tree, but they were diminishing in numbers quickly. Being 7 I was no genius … Well, on christmas eve my mum accused my brother and I of eating them all and to cries of “it wassnea me!” we both got scelped and put to bed early. Well, Little did I know that my brother had been eating them all and hoarding the chocolate coin wrappers which he decided to leave in my bedroom so my mum would find them. I got the complete blame for eating all of them, and wasn’t allowed anymore chocolate all holiday as my brother could eat the rest! The wee bam! Sometimes that’s just the way life is though! Needless to say revenge was had but that’s a tale for another day …

The short tale below is a simple story that echoes my chocolate coin horror story (well I was 7) of such a trusting bond from a Wolf, a loyal pack animal being broken by one red fox who can’t be trusted and the wolf getting the blame for his wrong doing. It certainly chimes with me. I particularly like this story as the fox is pious with all his baptisms but, underneath this, he just can’t be trusted.

Similar stories can be found across the whole of Europe sometimes it’s a bear and fox and sometimes its a cat and a mouse and the african american version its a rabbit dos and a possum. This particular version has been taken from J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Orally Collected, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1862), no. 65, pp. 96-98.

Fox and wolf and the keg of butter - don't trust anyone at christmas

Fox and wolf and the keg of butter

The Keg of Butter

The russet dog and the wild dog (the fox and the wolf) were going together. And they went round about the seashore on a dreich December night, and they found a keg of butter, and they buried it.

On the morrow the fox went out, and when he returned, he said that a man had come to ask him to a baptism. The fox went, and he arrayed himself in excellent attire, and he went away. And where should he go but to the butter keg. And when he came home, the wolf asked him, “What name was given to the child?”

And he said that it was Foveeal (under its mouth).

On the morrow the fox said that a man had sent to ask him to a baptism. And he went to the keg, and he took out about half.

The wolf asked, when he came home, “What name was given to the child?”

“Well,” said he, “It is a queer name that I myself would not give to my man child, if I had one. It is Moolay Moolay (about half and half).”

On the morrow the fox said that a man had come to ask him to a baptism again. And he went to the keg, and he ate it all up. When he came home, the wolf asked him, “What name was given to the child?”

And he said that it was Booill Eemlich (licking all up).

On the morrow the fox said to the wolf that they ought to bring the keg home. They went, and when they reached the keg, there was not a shadow of the butter in it.

“Well,” said the fox, “you came here without me!”

The other one swore that he had not come near it.

“You need not be claiming that you did not come here. I know that you did come, and that it was you who took the butter. And when we go home, I will see if you ate the butter,” said the fox.

When they arrived home, the fox hung the wolf by his hind legs, with his head dangling below him. Then he put a dab of the butter under the wolf’s mouth, as though it had come out of the wolf’s belly.

“You red thief!” said the fox. “I said before, that it was you who ate the butter!”

Cailleachs eye

Well, its holiday time again and without wanting to put doubt on family if they are coming to stay with you, be wary of the pious do-gooding one and that you don’t get blamed for eating all of the food or drinking all the booze over the holidays by their wiley fox-like ways!

You can find a longer version of the story, where the fox gets his comeuppance but sometimes the guilty are never punished for their crimes and blame others and simply get away with it. For that reason I like the ending of this story just the way it is.

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