Mummering: A Unique Christmas Folk Tradition

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Mummering is a colourful, unique, and somewhat mysterious custom that originates from the British Isles.

It has a long history, but is now most often associated with the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The tradition involves dressing up in disguises, visiting homes in the community, and providing entertainment in exchange for food and drink.

Historical Origins of Mummering

Mummering, or mumming as it’s also known, is a centuries-old tradition that began in England and Ireland.

It was primarily practiced during the Christmas season and the twelve days thereafter, known as the “Twelvetide“.

Participants, called mummers, would don elaborate costumes and masks to hide their identities, and then visit neighbours’ homes to sing, dance, or perform short plays called “mummers’ plays.”

The Mummering Tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador

Irish and English immigrants brought the tradition of mummering to Newfoundland and Labrador in the 19th century. There, it took on a distinctly local flavour and has been widely embraced as a unique aspect of regional culture.

During the holiday season, people will disguise themselves using old clothing and simple homemade masks, often accentuated with bizarre or humorous elements to further confuse their identity.

The mummers may stuff their clothes to alter their body shape or adopt different voices, making it a fun challenge for the hosts to guess their identities.

The Mummers’ Parade

In recent years, the tradition of mummering has taken a new form with the annual Mummers’ Parade in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

This event is a colourful spectacle where people, dressed as mummers, march through the streets in their festive disguises.

It’s a joyful celebration that brings the community together and showcases the region’s unique cultural heritage.

The Mummering Code

Mummering is more than just a playful tradition; it has its own set of rules and etiquette known as the mummering code.

This includes knocking on the door and asking permission to enter (often in a disguised voice), respecting the homeowners’ property, and leaving peacefully if asked to do so.

The identities of the mummers are kept a secret, and part of the fun is in the homeowners trying to guess who is beneath the disguises.

The Future of Mummering

Mummering continues to evolve and adapt in the 21st century, even in the face of changing societal norms and the increasing homogenisation of global culture.

The tradition is being kept alive by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, in Canada, who are passionate about their heritage, and it’s also being shared with tourists and newcomers.

In a world that’s becoming increasingly digital and disconnected, traditions like mummering provide an important link to our communal past.

They remind us of the value of community, laughter, and shared experiences.

As such, mummering is likely to continue to be a cherished part of the holiday season in Newfoundland and Labrador for years to come.

Read more Christmas Traditions and Customs