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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3 thoughts on “Any mummers ‘lowed in?!

  1. I love it Joanna! I wish I were in NFLD this Christmas. I would totally Mumm/Mummer (not sure which form of this verb is most appropriate…) Thanks for the Newfoudland Christmas tidbit.

    Happy to see you made it home safe and sound!

    Joyeux Noël!

    annique

  2. Yesssss!! I thought you might have a new blog entry. I think I’m developing a sixth sense :). Thank you for the post! I learned something new about you – I didn’t know you were the LEAD mummers in grade 3. One more reason to get your autograph. Do you have snow in NFLD or just raining? Which do you prefer – Squall or Rain/wind storm?

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