Designated in 2011 as a Distinctive Cultural Tradition and Practice.
Nominator: Dale Jarvis, Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
A tradition practiced in various forms for over 300 years, mummering, mumming, or janneying in Newfoundland and Labrador describes the practice of visiting several homes throughout an evening while dressed in a disguise.
Usually groups of friends or family will piece together their disguises using whatever they have around their homes. They might change their walk, talk, shape, or size-whatever it takes to make them unrecognizable to the hosts of the homes they visit. Upon entering a home, the hosts try to guess the identities of the mummers hidden behind some kind of mask. Once identified, the mummers remove their mask. The hosts then usually offer them drink and food. In many homes, a host would not offer a drink until they guess the mummer’s identity. With the lifting of the veil, the stranger becomes the friend and the whole group socializes until the mummers suit up and head out to the next home.
Mummering in Newfoundland and Labrador takes on many different forms: it continues as a Christmastime house visit; it has become a type of performance for summertime Come Home Year celebrations; it’s the topic of a still-popular song; and it’s represented in art and craft. Mummering has inspired artists, craftspeople, musicians, and business people. We now see mummer Christmas tree ornaments, dolls, embroidered pillows and quilts, wrapping paper, gift cards, paintings, photos, books, t-shirts, wine bags, coffee mugs, and Christmastime specialty beer. Mummering appears in local films, music, and television. It has been a continual area of interest for academics since the 1960s and, in the 1970s, provided the inspiration for an indigenous political theatre troupe.
Mummering (also known as mumming or janneying) is a cultural tradition that is enduring, and that contributes to a sense of Newfoundland and Labrador’s distinct provincial identity. Customs associated with mummering are of exceptional interest, as demonstrated by the amount of international academic research into these traditions. Mummering is also a custom that is in danger of being lost.
The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador established a school program that was brought to a number of locations throughout St. John’s. This program introduced students to the mummering tradition.