Any mummers ‘lowed in?!

As I sit in my sister’s house in St. John’s, Newfoundland, looking out at a raging rain and wind storm, I’m itching for a bit of Christmas spirit. I’ve spent the morning looking through old Christmas commercials and letters to Santa on the web (in between checking the forecast to make sure Rudolph can land the sleigh through this rain and fog on Friday night) and I thought it might be nice to write about a Newfoundland Christmas tradition.  And, of course, what would a Newfoundland Christmas be without Mummers?

Mummering originated in England and Ireland and was brought to Newfoundland by British colonists. Beginning in the early 1800s, mummering was a common practice in Newfoundland’s fishing villages (called outports).  During Christmas (from Dec. 25 to Old Christmas Day on Jan. 6), people would dress up in all kinds of old clothes  and costumes to conceal their identity and then visit different friends and family in the community.  Mummers would knock on the door and announce their arrival by yelling “Any mummers allowed in?” Once invited in, Mummers would sing, play instruments and dance, while the homeowners tried to guess their identity.  Once their identities were revealed, the mummers would remove their masks or veils and all would sit down for another drink before the mummers carried on to the next house.

Unfortunately, mummering started to decline towards the end of the 19th century, for a few reasons.  A few criminal incidents involving mummers lead to restrictions placed on mummering in 1862. Changes in economic and social structures in rural Newfoundland, as people relocated from small outports to larger centres, also contributed to the decline of mummering.

Growing up in St. John’s, I have never actually participated in any “true” form of mummering, yet it is somehow an important part of Christmas.  Apparently, we have been in a mummer revival period since about the 1960s and this seems to be gaining strength, as evidenced by a new mummers parade in St. John’s and the fact that my sister keeps bugging me to dress up as a mummer.  I was the lead mummer in my Grade 3 Christmas play, so perhaps I can channel my inner mummer and grant my sister her Christmas wish.

I will leave you with my favourite Newfoundland Christmas song by Simani, as well as the lyrics (just in case)!

Spoken:

Don’t seem like Christmas if the Mummers are not here,
Granny would say as she’d knit in her chair;
Things have gone modern and I s’pose that’s the cause,
Christmas is not like it was.

(Knock, knock, knock, knock) “Any mummers ‘lowed in?”

Hark, what’s the noise out by the porch door?
Granny, ’tis mummers, there’s twenty or more.
Her old weathered face brightens up with a grin,
Any Mummers, nice Mummers ‘lowed in?

Come in, lovely Mummers, don’t bother the snow,
We can wipe up the water sure after you go;
Sit if you can or on some Mummer’s knee,
Lets see if we know who ya be.

There’s big ones ‘n’ small ones ‘n’ tall ones ‘n’ thin,
Boys dressed as women and girls dressed as men;
Humps on their backs an’ mitts on their feet,
My blessed, we’ll die with the heat.

There’s only one there that I think that I know,
That tall feller standing o’er long side the stove;
He’s shakin’ his fist for to make me not tell,
Must be Willy from out on the hill.

Now that one’s a stranger if there ever was one,
With his underwear stuffed and his trap door undone;
Is he wearin’ his mother’s big forty-two bra?
I knows but I’m not gonna say.

Don’t s’pose you fine Mummers would turn down a drop,
No home brew or alchy, whatever you got;
Not the one with his rubber boots on the wrong feet,
He’s enough for to do him a week.

S’pose you can dance? Yes, they all nod their heads,
They’ve been tappin’ their feet ever since they came in;
Now that the drinks have been all passed around,
The Mummers are plankin’ her down.

Be careful the lamp and hold onto the stove,
Don’t swing Granny hard ’cause you know that she’s old;
No need for to care how you buckles the floor,
‘Cause Mummers have danced here before.

My God, how hot is it, we better go,
I ‘low we’ll all get the devil’s own cold;
Good night and good Christmas, Mummers, me dears,
Please God, we will see you next year.

Good night and good Christmas, Mummers, me dears,
Please God, we will see you next year.

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Housekeeping Items: Qiqqa and Wikipedia

Sunday is a day for housekeeping.  The dishes are done, the laundry is in, the floors are washed and dinner is in the oven.  So, I thought it would be appropriate to update you on two of my ongoing digital history experiments.  (Totally just kidding about the housework – none of that is done.  I’m a grad student and it’s the end of the term – my only domestic responsibility is to make sure I have enough coffee in the house.  It makes a good metaphor, though).

Qiqqa

The first experiment, which I blogged about earlier in the year, is with the document manager Qiqqa.  I have been using Qiqqa for a few months now and, like a fine wine, it only gets better with age.  The more documents I add to my Qiqqa library, the more useful and powerful it becomes.  The tagging feature was particularly helpful for my current Archives essay – I was able to filter my library by the relevant tags (being “archives” and “public history”), run an annotation report that revealed the notes I had made on those articles and was essentially presented with the framework for my essay.  Also, being able to search the text of an article (or my entire library, for that matter) is invaluable when looking for that specific quote or passage you saw somewhere, but can’t quite remember where. Basically, if you make detailed notes and use the tagging feature effectively, then Qiqqa will ensure an excellent return on your (non-monetary) investment.

Qiqqa has made a few updates since I last blogged about my experience, including my recommendation of lightening the colour of the annotations (which I have so modestly circled in red in the image).  Also, you can now share your documents with friends and colleagues by inviting them to join your web library (which is synced up to your computer).  I suspect they will be doing more with this feature in the months ahead to further facilitate collaboration. There has already been a December release, so clearly the people at Qiqqa are always responsive to feedback and are working hard to develop their product.

Wikipedia

My other ongoing digital history experiment is with Wikipedia.  I mentioned in a previous post, my first attempt to edit an entry, which edit only lasted 8 hours.  I decided that my edit (to do with the Famous Five monument in Ottawa) was more appropriate in a different article (and one less high profile than the one on Parliament Hill).  I took the same sentence I tried to add to the Parliament Hill article and added it to the article called The Famous Five.  Once my edit made it past the 8 hour mark, I felt like I was making some progress.  I then tested the waters some more by adding another sentence, to the end of an existing paragraph, that read: “The controversy surrounding the women has made commemoration difficult.” I then moved the existing paragraph on commemoration to follow this paragraph, having my new sentence act as a transition sentence of sorts.

Although these are minor edits, they did take some of my time.  I have more changes and additions I would like to make to this article, but my initial experience with the Parliament Hill article has made me hesitant to invest too much of my time in the event that my work is reverted and declared “unneeded.” I definitely have a new appreciation for the Wikipedia process and for those who dedicate their time to creating, revising and editing articles. It actually amazes me that there are so many people who invest this kind of time in a project that isn’t much of a benefit to them individually.  I am inclined to agree with Clay Shirky that people who contribute to Wikipedia do so in the spirit of the common good and out of love.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Well, here I am again, blogging when I really should be working on some of my other assignments.  I decided to work at home today and, as I gaze out the window watching our first real snow fall, I am inspired. Not to work on my Archives essay, unfortunately, but to share with you my favorite archival document.

On September 21, 1897, an 8 year old named Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun. As 8 year old girls often do, Virginia began to wonder about Santa Claus and, upon discussing her concerns with her father, he advised her to write a letter to The Sun saying “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.”

So, Virginia wrote a letter to The Sun asking if Santa Claus really existed.  Francis Pharcellus Church was the editor who received Virginia’s letter and his response is simply one of the loveliest pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered.  The letter needs no summary or analysis, and, even if you’ve heard this 1000 times in your liefe, I encourage you to read the original letter.  I found a digital copy on Newseum, a site I haven’t encountered before, but look forward to exploring.

My new favorite blog, Letters of Note, featured this letter in a post last year.  The post mentions that Virginia’s original letter appeared on an episode of Antiques Roadshow, where it was valued at $20,000 – $30,000. You can watch the valuation from the Letters of Note post.