The act of mummering actually comes from Rome, which is an awfully long way from Newfoundland & Labrador. The tradition was picked up in Great Britain, a tiny bit closer. It was adapted as one of earliest customs, dating back to the time of the earliest settlers who came to our land from England and Ireland.
Sometime during the twelve days of Christmas, usually on the night of the “Old Twelfth”, People would disguise themselves with old articles of clothing and visit the homes of their friends and neighbors. They would even cover their faces with a hood, scarf, mask or pillowcase to keep their identity hidden. Men would sometimes dress as women and women as men. They would go from house to house. They usually carried their own musical instruments to play, singing and dancing in every house they visited. The host and hostess of these ‘parties’ would serve a small lunch of Christmas cake with a glass of syrup or blueberry or dogberry wine. All mummers usually drink a Christmas “grog” before they leave each house. (Grog-a drink of an alcoholic beverage such as rum or whiskey.)
When mummers visit, everyone in the house starts playing a guessing game. They try to guess the identity of each mummer. As each one is identified they uncover their faces, but if their true identity is not guessed they do not have to unmask.
For a time the old tradition of “Mummering”, or “Jannying” as it is sometimes called, seemed to fade, especially in the larger centers of Newfoundland. However, thanks to the popular musical duo, Simini, who wrote and recorded “The Mummer’s Song” in 1982, mummering has seen a revival. Many people young and old look forward to dressing up at Christmas, knocking on a friend’s door and calling out “ANY MUMMERS ALLOWED IN?” (Here is a video of the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk and the song with photos at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzJW65XwKPY)
Mummering enables adults to act like kids again. They get all dressed up so that no one knows them and do crazy things. They tell all kinds of fibs, change their voice and act out of the norm! They play with water and make amess on the kitchen floor with their snow covered boots. They dance and sing silly songs. They come crashing down to real life, though, when someone guesses whom they are and they have to take off their masks. While the fun is not over, now they have to behave like adults again.
So when you’ve opened all your presents and you’ve eaten your turkey dinner, you probably feel that Christmas is over. But here in Newfoundland, the most easterly province in Canada, the fun is just starting, for the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 26 to January 6) is the time we’ll be mummering. You can watch for us, but you won’t know who we are!
Mummering in Rural Newfoundland & Labrador, has grown in popularity during the summer season, noting appearances as we promote “Christmas in July” for those who come from away. There is an opportunity to share this experience with others as demand for experential tourism increases as more urbanites yearn for all things rural.
Eagerly awaits for Christmas in July –