Any mummers 'loud in?

Ben Durnford
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Knock, knock, knock.

You hear a commotion outside your door, and before you can answer it, friendly voices call out "Any mummers 'loud in?"

This standard greeting has been part of a Newfoundland tradition that many people have come to recognize over the years where you dress up and go from house to house singing and dancing and having people guess who the mummers were.

Winnie Butt holding an Ugly Stick, s traditional Newfoundland noisemaker.

Knock, knock, knock.

You hear a commotion outside your door, and before you can answer it, friendly voices call out "Any mummers 'loud in?"

This standard greeting has been part of a Newfoundland tradition that many people have come to recognize over the years where you dress up and go from house to house singing and dancing and having people guess who the mummers were.

Port aux Basques resident Winnie Butt, 82, remembers this special Christmas tradition quite well.

"It has been a tradition for years, everybody went mummering," she said. "When Christmas came you always made sure you went out mummering.

"From Christmas day night until the holidays were over you would constantly see people out mummering. There weren't as many things to do back then and mummering was wonderful fun!" Mrs. Butt explained.

"They wore whatever they could to make themselves look different, they'd put on anything from a mask made from pillow cases to old clothes or a fishing slicker."

Mummers would then travel to their friends' homes and would always bring some sort of music with them like an accordion and ugly stick and while the music was being played the rest of the mummers would dance with the house owners. After a while of this, the identities of the mummers would try to be guessed which was hard because quite often men would dress as women and women as men.

Mrs. Butt especially remembered the treats given out to the mummers after each jig.

"Purity syrup and cake was served to the mummers at almost all the houses. Mummers loved a mug up before travelling to the next house."

Mummers would stay in each home for at least 20 minutes entertaining and fooling around and would sometimes end up staying for hours on many nights. There could be as many as 20 mummers in a home at once.

Mummering was such fun, recalls Mrs. Butt. It was never forgotten during the Christmas holidays because it was part of tradition.

However, over the years it has become a tradition that's less popular and not as important as it used to be. Mummering is part of Newfoundland's history, especially in smaller communities.

Mrs. Butt laughs when she thinks of her memories about mummering. It was one of the best Christmas traditions that went on back then. Visiting the people was lovely fun that everyone enjoyed.

"Mummers would go all over town, wherever they thought they would get in," she said, explaining that wasn't hard back then because everybody was used to it.

Getting the treats was a nice thing when you went mummering, but the best part was watching people guess who the mummers were! When they were all dressed up it was hard to tell and we would get the biggest kind of laugh out of it."

These days, people are more careful as to who they let in their homes, which is why Mrs. Butt believes could be contributing to the fact that the tradition is dying.

"It's sad not to see anybody out mummering anymore. Things aren't the same as they were back then," Mrs. Butt said as she reminisced on her cherished memories of mummering. "It was such a wonderful thing, and it raised spirits all around town making the holiday even better and giving a good laugh at the same time."

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Port aux Basques

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  • Frank
    June 28, 2010 - 14:29

    Thanks Mrs. Butt for keeping the memories of Christmas alive. It is true that many Newfoundlanders have put our good old traditions on the back burners. However, there are many others who look forward to Christmas and they bubble with joy when they get to think back to their childhood days and able to share old traditions with family and friends no matter where they are globally.

    Our down home traditions were kept together by family neighbourliness which we seem to experience very little of today. The world of commercialism has taken over Christmas, even the Newfoundland lifestyle through crafts from Newfoundland , which are often made in China. There are those who are very worried about their business when the older generation of Newfoundlanders are no longer with us.
    However, there are still many Newfoundlanders living in Ontario, Calgary and Vancouver who have never forgotten their roots. They never did leave their childhood memories and traditions on their doorsteps back home.
    They are the proud Newfoundlanders you get to meet globally.

    Mrs. Butt has put her finger on the flickering flame of Christmas traditions which many of us will keep burning like the old kerosine lamps and lighthouse lantern red lights that directed our fishermen and their crew back home for Christmas.

    Merry Christmas Mrs. Butt.

    Frank Blackwood
    Newfoundland Writer