18 December 2011

Mummers Parade

Source: Order your own mummer here
Mummers in Newfoundland are one of the many traditions brought over by the hundreds of English fishermen who came here to work in the 18th C. The tradition involved dressing up in old sheets, blankets, curtains, pillow cases, buckets, (basically, whatever you can put your hand to), disguising your identity (this is key), then going door-to-door and performing an old Christmas play in return for food and drink. The hosts would often try and guess the identity of the performers which, in small fishing communities usually wasn't too difficult.

But things took an ugly turn in the 19th C when some individuals took advantage of the traditional disguises to work out political or personal vengeance (see Mummers on Trial or Mummering, Violence and the Law...). Mummering was then banned.

While the tradition continued on in smaller, isolated communities it died out in the larger communities, particularly St. John's, until a revival in the 70s. There's been a Mummers Play, a song, a radio documentary, however, in a city of 200,000 door-to-door mummers aren't always a welcome sight even with the catch phrase "Any Mummers Allowed?" Soon after I moved here in the mid-90s, I experienced a mummers' invasion and I gotta say, as a CFA (come-from-away), I was just a little nervous. The mummers were friends of my room-mates but I didn't know and so made sure to be holding a heavy skillet (behind my back) in case things got out of hand which, from my point of view, seemed likely. We survived.

The most recent incarnation of the Mummers has been a Mummers Festival which includes a parade through the streets of St. John's. It happened yesterday. I wasn't there as I had some urgent cooking matters to attend to...with my heavy skillet.



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