“Any mummers ‘llowed in?”
Mummering (or Janneying as it’s known in some places) is the old Newfoundland Christmas tradition of dressing up in disguise and going door to door. Its a very social event and normally the mummers would have a drink and dance around. Part of the fun usually involves people in the home guessing the mummer’s identity. This is no easy task, since the mummers may be dressed in baggy clothes (sometimes of the opposite sex), wearing masks and altering their voices.
Throughout our history mummering has waxed and waned in popularity. Even the famous Simani song opens by asking if the homeowner is ok with letting the masked people into the house. One can imagine the potential problems that could befall the homeowner – damaged property or theft being the most obvious. There are people with malicious intent who will take advantage of any situation and Mummering is not immune.
Today most mummering takes place in smaller towns, where a close knit community means that you would know the people in the disguises, and can relax and enjoy the fun. There’s a certain level of comfort and confidence that outport life lends to the custom. I’ve lived in towns where you would wave to every car because you knew the person driving it.
In the larger towns people may have a harder time enjoying mummering as it traditionally existed. But that does not mean that it should be left to the past. Mummering can still happen in the city as long as its not done carelessly. Walking may not be an option so make sure there is a designated driver (good advice for any situation, really). And if the people you visit aren’t comfortable with strangers, perhaps one member of the group can phone the houses beforehand. Lastly, if you can’t get a group together you can always participate in a mummers parade. It would be shame to lose mummering and its encouraging to see people keeping it alive.
Here’s a picture taken about four years back. These Janneys were going door to door in a small town on the Northern Peninsula. (click for full size)