Mummering in Newfoundland and Labrador
Where did this tradition come from?
Mummering is an old Christmas tradition that originated in England and Ireland and can be traced back to the 19th century. Also known as "janneying", mummering typically involved friends or family disguised in old clothing with their faces hidden visiting home in their neighborhood and community during the twelve days of Christmas.
In spite of mummering being banned by an Act in 1861, which came about because a man in Bay Roberts was killed by a group of mummers, it is still enjoyed as a popular pastime in many rural areas today and is making a comeback in some urban areas as well.
With regards to costumes anything goes, from men wearing stuffed bras and women wearing oil skins, with cloths over their faces. It seems that there is no article of clothing that is out of bounds for a mummer's outfit. The "Mummers' Song" by Simani gives one a great perspective of the mummers.
To listen to The Mummer's Song by Semani, click here!
An unsuspecting host could be enjoying a quiet evening by the fire, when all of a sudden he/she would hear a loud knock on the front door and soon their house would be flooded by their friends and family in disguise. In some areas the host would then try to guess the identities of each person before offering them any treats or beverages. Once the identities of the mummers was revealed, they could take off their face coverings and kick up their heels to some music along with their host.
While mummering is a Christmas tradition, it doesn't stop people from dressing up as mummers at other times of the year. It is often a part of "Christmas in July", an event that has become common in the province. Tourism operators in Newfoundland quite often get visits from the mummers during the summer months. Mummers are also known to drop in frequently at Woody Island Resort as special guests during their "kitchen party".
In 2009, the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador's Intangible Cultural Heritage office established what would become an Annual Mummers' Festival with a Mummers' Parade in St. John's. The success of the festival has greatly influenced the revival and the interest of the 'mummers' tradition in Newfoundland.
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