Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Any Mummers 'llowed In Tonight?

Back to the subject at hand: the glorious festive season. Some of my favourite ornaments on our tree are rooted in an old Newfoundland tradition called mummering (or janneying). Here's how it works. During the 12 days of Christmas, a motley crew of mummers might show up on your doorstep wearing disguises. These disguises might consist of a face wrapped in a pillow case (complete with eye holes), or cross dressing, or wearing a pair of oven mitts on one's feet. The mummers might wear lace doilies on top of their head or a bra on top of their clothing (take THAT Madonna! We were SO ahead of you on that front...)They might have musical instruments tucked under their arm.

One of the mummers may carry an ugly stick, or a hobby horse (beware the hobby horse - BEWARE!) The mummers (or janneys) will probably disguise their voices. They'll be "talking on the inhale" (which means speaking while inhaling air). They might perform a play. They might play a couple of tunes and invite you up for a bit of a scuff. There is only one thing that's certain when faced with a crowd of mummers on your doorstep - you must invite them in and offer them food and drink!

Here are some of the mummers that hang from our tree.
Pretty much any home you go to in Newfoundland will have a mummer lurking somewhere. There are prints a plenty hanging from walls, and photos too. Sure there's even a Mummer's FESTIVAL happening in St. John's right now!

Last Christmas, when we visited my family in Newfoundland we headed out around the bay for a fabulous evening with my Aunt Georgiana, Uncle Carson, Uncle Bill and Aunt Vivian in Conception Bay. And as we sat around after dinner, what to our wondering eyes should appear but a pack of wild mummers!! And this is what they looked like in real life.

If you're interested, Chris Brookes, the guy who led the charge to breathe life into an ancient Newfoundland tradition, made a radio documentary about the history of mummering. Might I suggest that you curl up by the fireplace (or the Shaw Holiday Log if you don't have the real McCoy) and have a listen?

Oh. And have I mentioned lately how much I LOVE the festive season??????


  1. I want to hear the "snocking" of a hobby horse!!