Newfoundland and Labrador folklorist Dale Jarvis has produced a book documenting a tradition that is very near and dear to my heart with his launch of “Any Mummers ‘lowed In?”
I first met Dale Jarvis in the summer of 2001 as a participant of Medquest. One of the activities on our list was the Haunted Hike http://www.hauntedhike.com/. These hikes take place between June and September and tell local tales and ghost stories that have quite an impact. It was actually where I met my friend, Amanda who celebrates today. Happy Birthday!
I’ve always had an interest in the concept of mummering or jannying since a very young age. As a young child, I would go door to door in disguise at Christmastime. This continued through the teenage and even today’s adult years. My major paper in Folklore 1000 was on Christmas Mummering and in 2010 my friend Sabrina and I co-founded the first ever Mummer’s Walk in the Straits at Flower’s Cove. It has continued each year at Anchor Point (2011), Savage Cove (2012) and Green Island Cove (2013). We have seen a revival in the region of mummering with more people going door to door, mummer’s dances, mummer crafts, memorabilia and other activities.
It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Dale Jarvis in January of this year, as he was compiling stories, photos and information about mummering in preparation for his book. “Any Mummers ‘lowed in?” was officially launched on October 15th. It is amazing to see this work in printed form, as I received a copy as gift from my friend Krista for my birthday on the 23rd. I have only had the opportunity to read the first chapter, but have skimmed the book, peering at the variety of images, songs and took an interest in the section of the hobby horse. I look forward to reading it in its entirety.
My excitement was greatly peaked when I turned to page 4. I snapped a photo and sent a text to my cousin and said, “remember this?”. We were tiny mummers visiting the neighbours. I believe we told them we were from Sandy Cove or Green Island Brook depending on the house. Likely my mother had already called in advance letting them know we were on our way. The wonderful memories of growing up in Green Island Cove!
Throughout the book are a number of images of mummers of all ages over the years, including several from the Great Northern Peninsula that include our Mummer Walks and Dances.
I encourage people to get a copy of this wonderful book, just in time for the holidays! The book is a masterfully done in a way that preserves, shows an evolution of mummering and shares our local knowledge and culture of these centuries old tradition. If you would like to get a copy you can do so direct from Chapters/Indigo or Flanker Press on-line or purchase at many bookstores. Visit http://dalejarvis.blogspot.ca/ for more information about the author, book, up-coming signings and how to purchase.
One thing I’ve come to learn more recently from our interview is Dale Jarvis certainly is a mummering enthusiast, a hobby horse maker and a founding member of the 2009 Mummers Festival in St. John’s. We need others to share in our interest and encourage more active mummering. It truly is a tradition that has been around for as long as anyone in our rural outports can remember. This year I would like to announce that our 5th Annual Mummer’s Walk will be on December 28th at Sandy Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula.
Live Rural NL –
Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North
The act of mummering actually comes from Rome, which is an awfully long way from Newfoundland and Labrador. The tradition was picked up in Great Britain, a tiny bit closer. It was adapted when some of the planters from Great Britain settled in Newfoundland, they brought the tradition of mummering with them.
At that time there were three types of mummering (or “jannying” or “mumming“). The oldest form was the parade. In St. John’s, Newfoundland‘s capital city, the Mummer’s Parade was a yearly event. This parade was not like our Santa Claus parades of today; it was very loud and rowdy, even to the point where people got hurt. In 1861, one hundred and fifty years ago, mummering was actually banned in Newfoundland because a man was killed by a group of mummers. Mummering, illegal?
Mummers also gave a performance visit. A group would go to someone’s house and put on a small play for him or her. The play always had a hero who was killed by a bad guy. Then a doctor would bring him back to life again. The actors in the play would ask for money before they left the house. This kind of visit stopped in Newfoundland and Labrador shortly before World War I; that’s more than 90 years ago.
The one kind of mummering activity that can still be found in Newfoundland and Labrador is the house visit. But years ago even this form of mummering was often violent and unpleasant. Mummers often carried “splits” or large sticks and fought with other groups of mummers or attacked innocent people. Horns, tails and skins from goats, sheep, caribou and seals were all used in costumes. They did a lot of damage to houses, wharves and fences. Many people were afraid of them.
Just under thirty years ago, in 1982, Bud Davidge and Sim Savoury released “The Mummer’s Song“. This silly song, written in true Newfoundland dialect, tells about a visit of the mummers who come in and dance. “Be careful the lamp and hold on to the stove. Don’t swing Granny hard ’cause you know that she’s old.” This catchy tune has probably caused more people to start mummering again. This time, however, most mummering is not violent, but fun. It is a really enjoyable way to visit your friends, and when they guess who you are, you invite them back to your house for a similar visit.
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.
Although mummering has faded in large urban centers, with the exception of the re-introduction of the Mummer’s Parade held annually in St. Johns, the spirit of mummering continues in rural Newfoundland & Labrador. So when you’ve opened all your presents and you’ve eaten your turkey dinner, you probably feel that Christmas is over – here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the most easterly province in Can, the fun is just beginning, 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!
There is still time to mummer, as tomorrow night is OLD CHRISTMAS NIGHT!
Live Rural NL – Christopher Mitchelmore
- A Brief History of Mummering… (liveruralnl.com)
- Calling all Mummers….Mummers Walk & Food Drive December 29, 2010 (liveruralnl.com)
- Mummering flourishes in N.L. homes (cbc.ca)
- Mummer’s Walk & Food Drive a Success! (liveruralnl.com)
- Our Beloved Purity Factories… (liveruralnl.com)