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Mummering: a Newfoundland and Labrador holiday tradition

By Melanie MacDonald

For many people in Newfoundland and Labrador, holiday festivities wouldn’t be complete without the centuries-old tradition of mummering — a disguised house visiting and guessing game.  Canadian Red Cross staff in St. John's recently got in on the fun too, not by visiting houses but drawing approving horn honks from passing motorists as they stood waving outside the Red Cross building.

Staff member Jillian Mullowney shared that as a child, there was no shortage of musical and theatrical talent in her hometown of Bay Bulls.

“It was the most magical part of Christmas, staying up late and watching mummers make their way to and from my house. They would often sneak me sugary treats from the table, and my favorite, raspberry syrup mixed with water.”

Mummers are masked merrymakers in quirky costumes who go to great lengths to keep their identities hidden, including changing the way they walk and talk, and adding padding in all the wrong places to change their shape or size.  It’s not uncommon to cover faces with a pillowcase or lace curtain. Mummers also carry “ugly sticks,” which are hand-made musical instruments they have fashioned out of household items or tools, and almost always with an old boot or shoe at the bottom.

Red Cross mummers

Can you guess who these mummers are in this photo?

Traditionally, visiting mummers shout out a universal greeting of “any mummers (al)lowed in?” Their hosts will offer some food, wine or other beverages as their guests dance, play music and sing “The Mummer’s Song.” Everyone in the house tries to guess the identity of each mummer and as each is recognized, they must uncover their faces.
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