Appalachia Rhymes

Jack Be Nimble

Jack be nimble

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candlestick.


Researching this rhyme made me scream WHO KNEW!? Turns out way back in the sixteenth century anyone who could jump over a candlestick without causing the flame to go out was guaranteed (supposedly) to be prosperous in the coming year. I guess anyone who could jump spryly over a flame without putting it out already had a leg up on folks who were not up to jumping over a candlestick.

At one point-jumping over the candlestick was such a popular pastime that it became a sporting event at local venues.

I’m thinking that would have been the one sport I could have excelled at…too bad candlestick jumping fell out of fashion I might have won a gold medal. Then again my dream of winning the gold probably wouldn’t have happened…I doubt Granny would have let me do much practicing at her house.


*Source: Roberts, Chris. Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme. Large print ed. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike Press, 2006. Print.

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  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I remember this rhyme well, but I can’t remember what would be occurring when we said it, like counting, or going in circles or jumping rope or…
    Anyway, I had no clue about the history of it. Fun to know. I wonder how many set their britches afire doing it, cause ya know there’s some folks (quite sincerely – like me) who have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Just come in and tuned in! The better-half was trying to get the raised beds weeded and mulched before the rain we are/were supposed to have…Boy oh boy, is it ever hot out there, worse’n gettin’ yore toes burnt by a candlestick…
    Now about that Jack feller…Did you know that Jack b. Nimble connection was to the English pirate of same name, who was notorious for escaping from authorities in the late 16th century, hence ‘Jack be Nimble’….etc..The tradition of candle-leaping originated from an old game of jumping over fires. It was banned, and replaced by the less dangerous candle leaping. There were lace-making schools ( ? good excuse for child slave labour) and it was tradition to dance around the lace-makers great candlestick, and this led to jumping over the candlestick. Due to the cost of candles some employers only allowed the use of candles during the darkest months of the year and centred around Candlemas Day, known as the candle season….This here note came from my book by Linda Alchin on the secret history of rhymes..
    I thought it interesting…and as it turned into a sport at fairs etc…If you ever watched those intricate lace-makers, tiny threads, many spools laid across a pillow, I can understand the using the young eyes of youth and nimble fingers and large candles to be able to see…
    I ’bout go blind, trying to sew on a button anymore…
    Thanks Tipper for Jack Be Nimble…
    Have you ever noticed how many Jack people are in nursery rhymes as well as Robins..Tommys etc.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 29, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I love these old nursery rhymes you
    keep mentioning. As a boy, we got lots
    of practice jumping from a snake you
    might have stepped on after dark. And
    riding down small trees was always a
    favorite passtime, trying to act like
    Tarzan. …Ken

  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Dolores – Thank you for the comment! I didn’t find a standard height for the jumping-but you’re right there would have had to have been one : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    May 29, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Tipper, I so remember, Jack Be Nimble. As I grew up Daddy read so many poems and rhymes to us. We need to take time in this fast pace world to read or quotes them to others. I taught school for so many years. I was a science teacher, but I managed to work stories and rhymes into my lessons.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 10:32 am

    That history was very interesting and new for me. However, was there a standard for the height of the lighted candlestick? I would think that would have made a difference as to whether you had a successful jump or a bumbled one.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Andrew A Strait-I typed the word correctly but when I hear it come out of my mouth…I hear supposably : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Gina S
    May 29, 2014 at 8:51 am

    When I think of all the nursery rhymes Mama carried in her head, I know they came from a great oral tradition. Books other than an almanac and the Bible were a luxury ill afforded on the little farm where Mama grew up. I see a chain of women going back through generations learning the rhymes from a mother then passing them to a child. I feel a connection to those women I never knew.

  • Reply
    Andrew A Strait
    May 29, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I was thrilled to read your correct usage of the word supposedly. ‘Round here it has been almost completely replaced by supposably. It is refreshing to see that at least one other hasn’t given over to the corrupted version.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 29, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Another verse which I expect you’ve heard:
    You’ve gotta be quick,
    Or you’ll get burned.
    I tried it once –
    That’s how I learned.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 29, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I have always wondered about the origins of that rhyme. At least it wasn’t another plague.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 29, 2014 at 7:44 am

    I guess that was before balls were invented. Who knew the beginning of sports was Jack jumping over a candle stick!

  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 7:38 am

    PS – had to find your post on the web – didn’t arrive in email.- even so- your posts and your readers comments are always worth looking for!

  • Reply
    May 29, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Wonder how tall the candle had to be? What about the flame? Did women participate?
    Any connection to “Liar, Liar, pants on fire?
    – hmmmmmmmm.

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