I talk about the old Christmas Custom of Mummers in Newfoundland, and do some reminiscing.
Mumming is an ancient pagan custom, and the people of Medieval Britain often used it as an excuse to have a party at Christmas. They would dress up in old articles of clothing to disguise themselves, and wearing masks, visit the homes of friends and neighbours during the Christmas season. It was later banned in the UK, because it often became an excuse for begging and committing crimes. Although the early settlers brought it to the new world, where it came to be known as mummering, it was also quickly banned in most places. Newfoundland however, where most communities were small and isolated was the exception. Here it became a Christmas tradition that continues to this day.
When mummers visit everyone in the house start playing a guessing game. The idea is to guess the identity of the mummers, and as each one is identified they uncover their faces, if no one guesses a mummers name he/she does not have to unmask. Sometimes a man will dress as a woman or a women as a man. Often there is accordion music and the mummers will dance with each others or members of the household. Sometimes a small lunch may be served, Christmas cake and with a glass of syrup or maybe whisky or rum. When I was growing up, it was common for children above the age of twelve to go mummering, but with others of their age or a year or two older, never with adults.
Although it is a Christmas custom, it is almost unknown for anyone to go mummering on Christmas night or on a Sunday. Starting on Boxing day, (which we always knew as St Stephen’s day when I was a boy) and continuing to Old Christmas day, Jan. 6 th at anytime after darkness, you may expect a knock on your door with the traditional greeting, ”any mummers allowed in”? As Children we would visit nearby houses during the early hours of the night, and although I feel certain that everyone knew who we were, they would make much of trying to guess our identity. We knew nothing of Halloween and today’s “trick or treat”, so this was our chance to dress up and have some fun, maybe even get a treat.
For a time, especially in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, the old tradition seemed to fade in many parts of the province, but thanks to the locally popular musical duo, Simini, it has been revived. Simini wrote and recorded “The Mummer’s Song” in 1982 and once again, at sometime during the Christmas season, it’s common, at least in the smaller towns, to see mummers going from door to door. They sing the old Christmas songs and ask the well worn question as only Newfoundlanders can, ”any mummers “lowed in”?
The Mummer”s Song may be viewed on You Tube.