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Christmas Traditions

Christmastime house-visiting traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador have a long and varied history. Mummering, mumming, or janneying, as it is commonly known today, typically involves a group of friends or family who dress in disguise and visit homes within their community or neighbouring communities during the twelve days of Christmas. If the mummers are welcomed into a house, they often do a variety of informal performances that may include dance, music, jokes, or recitations. The hosts must guess the mummers’ identities before offering them food or drink. They may poke and prod the mummers or ask them questions. To make this a challenge for the hosts, the mummers may stuff their costumes, cross-dress, or speak while inhaling (ingressive speech). Once the mummers have been identified they remove their disguise, spend some social time with the hosts, and then travel as a group to the next home.

There are several other house-visiting traditions in the province. “The wren” involves visitors parading a small effigy of a bird on a stick from house to house, reciting a verse for the hosts. Ribbon fools were outstanding for their elaborate costumes of necklaces, broaches, and coloured ribbons. They would travel, unmasked, with colourful sticks which they used to poke passersby. The naliyuk, like the mummer, is a disguised house-visitor from the Inuit tradition. Dressed in masks and carrying sticks, naliyuks are especially terrifying to children, who are questioned by the masked figures and then offered gifts.

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Related Links:
Performance Arts in Newfoundland
Mummers on Trial: Mumming, Violence and the Law in Newfoundland
The wren tradition and other visiting customs in Newfoundland and Ireland
Mummers Festival!


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