Christmas with Mummers

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.

Maggie and Kaegan with Hobby Horse

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.

Mummers in Ireland

Mummers in Ireland

 

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.

Mummers in Philadelphia

Mummers in Philadelphia

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.

St. John's Mummers Festival

St. John's Mummers Festival

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/ .

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Christmas with Mummers

  1. A couple of nights ago I was listening to VOCM and a song with the lyrics “a blanket of white on those cold winter nights, Christmas in the river again” would this be the Erin’s Call song“Christmas in the River” you refer to? How can I here it again ? internet searches turn up nothing.

  2. Hi Ron. Dave Dawe here. Just checking out your site. Had not seen it before. Very impressive! Lots of info, nice pictures, and great music! You’re a terrific promoter of all things Newfoundland.

  3. Thanks Ron, thanks for letting us in on all the great activities and events happening, I so want to come back and visit and tour, next time for longer so much to see and do! I too would love to get one of your CDs lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s