The Mummering tradition was brought to NL from England. The earlier form of mummering is the “mummers house visit”, which was most popular in Newfoundland in earlier years. Here in NL the tradition is that at Christmas time members of the community would disguise themselves and travel from house to house. These disguised citizen, the mummers, would act “out of character” until the home owners guessed their identities and the mummers were unmasked. If this does not sound the least unnerving to you, then you have more nerve than I.
The mummers will announce their arrival by not merely knocking but pounding upon your door at night, asking the question, in their odd way of speaking (inhaling as they speak) “Any mummers ‘loud in?”. Or they could substitute the word mummers for jannies, as they were called when my mom was a little girl. If let in the mummers would proceed to “act foolish”, as some might call it. They will drink and dance, only ceasing when their identities are revealed. There disguises are outrageous! To quote “The Mummers Song” by the group Simini, there will be “boys dressed as women and girls dressed as men”, “humps on their backs and mitts on their feet”, “…with his underwear stuffed and his trapdoor undone. Is he wearing his mother's big forty-two bra?” A mummer will make use of anything available to them to make a costume.
Here you can see the tradition in action, as show in this song by Simini, and for the lyrics, click here
The Mummers Song
What a treat this was for the people of rural NL who were the mummers. Living in tight knit communities where everyone knew everyone else so well, to be a stranger in your own community was surely an odd experience. And to be given occasion to break all the social norms, to act so out of characters, was also a treat.
Above in this blog post I mentioned that the earlier form of mummering is the "mummers house visit", a later version of this tradition is the “Mummers Play”. While not as popular, and to some NLers completely unknown, this is still performed in England. And of course, there are whole performances available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube!
Crook Morris Mummers Play 17th January 2009
Mummer's Play - Part 1 - Medieval Christmas Revels - Cambridge 1995
Mummer's Play - Part 2 - Medieval Christmas Revels - Cambridge 1995
Mummer's Play - Part 3 - Medieval Christmas Revels - Cambridge 1995
For more information on mummering in Newfoundland, please visit the following links:
Mummers Festival website (link)
When at the website be sure to click on the heading “Traditions” to learn more about Mummering and Janneying (link) and another creepy character, the Hobby Horse (link)
On Facebook be sure to join the Mummers Festival (Folklife Festival of Newfoundland and Labrador) (link)
Be sure to check out the Photos (link) from this year’s Mummers Festival!
I have very few memories of mummers. Though they frightened me and some of my friends as well, they do not mean to, at least that is not the point of the tradition, to scare people. Despite the use of Halloween masks, and the whole thing feeling more like something that should take place in October, mummers are not out to purposely scare you; they are a jolly sort who are merely having some fun.
I have so few memories of them because by the time I was born, the tradition was dying out, with good reason. Times have changed very much, and the thought of letting masked strangers into your home in the dead of night today may be a little more than unnerving for some. This is perhaps why the Mummers Festival got started (find out more about that in the links above!). It is a way of making a tradition safe again. And speaking of the festival, I was very sad when I found out that I would miss the Mummers parade. However, this being an annual festival, I shall be attending next year!
For some it is still very much a part of their Christmas memories. It may very well not seem like Christmas if the mummers are not knocking at your door. For me, it does not feel like Christmas if there is not any snow. Which is why this year, I don’t feel much like celebrating.
Kindest personal regards,
Do not forget the reason for the season,
Miss Alice Grimm