I have to admit, we have it pretty good here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not have tornadoes or major hurricanes; we do not have a high crime rate and there is almost zero % pollution. We do have rain, drizzle and fog and on this end of the island, as we say, “the east wind would almost cut you in two”.
Our weather and living on an island in the North Atlantic helps shape us into the people we are, proud of traditions and way of life. This is depicted in our songs and stories which are linked to the sea. Our traditions are also linked with our ancestors who sailed here hundreds of years ago to seek out a new life… a better life. Our ancestors came from England, Ireland, and France primarily. Each with their own traditions, including food, music and dance, all these traditions became more prevalent around Christmas time.
Tradition of Mummering or Jannying
One tradition that has etched its way into our Christmas culture is the practice of Mummering (or where I am from, Riverhead, Hr. Grace, it is called Jannying). Mummers, for those who are not familiar with this practice, are people dressed in disguise and who visit your home during Christmas, knock on your door and ask “any mummers allowed in”? or “any Jannies allowed in”?
Last week, the Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation held a “Grand Old Christmas Time.” Mummers made an appearance at the Time, much to the enjoyment of everyone. The music playing in the background is The Mummers Song, written by Bud Davidage, and recorded by Simani. The song, written in 1984, is a Christmas classic in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Once invited inside they will sing and or dance and will expect a drink, usually some sort of alcohol was given. We were given home brew (homemade beer), most of the houses had large blue barrels next to their oil or woodstoves, I guess a good place for fermentation.
Childhood Memories of Jannies
As a child , growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s I was mortified of Jannies, I use to hear my relatives talk about good and bad Jannies , as a result , in my mind they were all bad, especially the hobby horse. The hobby horse usually was the last Jannie to enter the house; I could remember scooting in the room as fast as I could when I heard the SLAP of its mouth.
When I got older, the concept of Mummering grew on me, and eventually we joined the ranks of the people of the community who kept this tradition going.
Last fall, Dale Jarvis who works as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, conducted a workshop on “How to Build a Hobby Horse” at the Bay Roberts Visitor Information Centre.
Meggie, Kaegan, and I attended and constructed a family Hobby Horse.
Mummering Around the World
Although Mummering is practiced all over the world, there are different adaptations to the movement. I had the opportunity to travel to Dingle Ireland and while there discovered their traditional drew for Mummering was nothing like ours. They dresses in straw, with large straw hats, and one gentleman told me of a practice of jumping through fires with the costume on.
As in Ireland, other countries celebrate this age old tradition, while researching for paper years ago, I discovered in one form or another, Mummering was celebrated in such countries like England, Wales, Belgium and the United States. In the US , many cities still have large mummers parades and performances such Philadelphia, their parade is world renowned. Some stage elaborate plays with St. George and the Turkey King (Knight) in Europe.
Mummering in Newfoundland
Mummering was disappearing in the 1990’s and 2000’s with the exception of pockets of rural Newfoundland and Labrador communities. The movement got a shot in the arm with the formation of the Mummers Festival in St. John’s.
This award winning festival has grown since its inception and is now a major part of the Holiday season in Newfoundland and Labrador. With workshops and events, and the Mummers Parade (taking place this Saturday) the traditions of Newfoundland Mummering is in good hands. If in St. John’s this Saturday, please drop by and watch, or get involved, they would love to have you involved in this tradition. For more info on the parade visit http://mummersfestival.ca/ .