Tomfoolery in Newfoundland
On the eastern coast of Canada, in Newfoundland, a different kind of Christmas celebration has been gaining popularity since the 1970s. Mummering, also called Jennying or Jannying, is a folk tradition that actually dates back to 1819 in Canada and medieval Rome before that.
The tradition generally takes place a few weeks before Christmas. It involves people dressing up in outrageousvery bold and unusual costumes, wearing masks and changing their voices in order to concealhide their identity. Once in disguise changing the way you look to hide your identity, a group of mummers will visit the home of a friend, neighbour or family member to perform a joke, song or dance. Once the host has successfully guessed the identity of the jokers, the masks are removed and the guests are invited in to drink, dance and be merryhappy.
But it was not always fun and games in Newfoundland. Mummering actually has a dark and violent past. In the 19th century, mummers often carried large sticks or other weapons. Some people took advantage of the masked costumes to rob houses and carry out violent attacks. The custom was officially banned in 1861 after a man was killed whilst walking home. The custom largely disappeared from public life, however, it is believed that people carried on mummering in their homes.
When the mummer’s song was released in 1981 by the band Simani, the tradition slowly began to return to popular culture. More recently a number of official festivals and parades have been established in celebration of mummering. Emphasisparticular importance is placed on silly homemade costumes which take advantage of household items such as curtains, blankets, underwear, pillows and shoes on the wrong feet. When it comes to mummering, tomfoolerysilly behaviour is the new normal!