“Any Mummers ‘lowed in?” is the first thing you hear after a loud knock at the front door. With a sudden rush of excitement and nerves, you anxiously rush to the door knowing your night is about to change. On the other side, you are greeted by a rambunctious group (5-15 people) of oddly disguised characters with an abundance of energy who are ready to sing, dance, play some tunes & drink! Once you’ve invited these “strangers” into your home, the party is started and the games begin. As the homeowner, your task is to find out who each person is and while some will be easy to figure out, others will stump you. They may walk and talk differently to throw you off or wear oversized shoes and stuff their outfit with pillows. There’s no length a good mummer won’t go to fool ya! Once you’ve guessed who the person is behind the mask, doily, pillow case or lamp shade, they can remove their face covering and continue on with the party. After an hour or two, the mummers will pack up and move onto another friend’s house, leaving you dumbfounded and overjoyed.
This beautifully bizarre Newfoundland tradition is called Mummering and it was one of the most incredibly fun, spontaneous and memorable experiences that Christmas time had to offer as a kid. Originating in England & Ireland, the tradition was first documented in Newfoundland in the early 19th century and after some darker times in its history, Mummering eventually regained its initial spirit in the 80’s and has been thriving ever since.
I can so easily recall that special feeling of having mummers at the door with their ugly sticks, goofy dance moves and jolly energy. The core memories from those surprise visits instilled a fascination for the tradition and as I grew in the world of photography, I knew I had to combine these two loves one day. Flash forward to July 2022, 13 years after my last visit and I’m finally standing on that big beautiful rock in the Atlantic. Due to my grandmother’s funeral ( love ya Mom Daisy), I found myself in Newfoundland and I knew I had to take advantage of finally being home. Although it was summer and everyone’s mummer outfits were in storage, I was able to find enough real ones to bring this project to life! With the help of Lynn McShane, the executive director of the Mummer’s Festival, I was able to get the word out to a bunch of Keener’s who came with their best doily on. The whole experience for me was emotional on many levels and I am so grateful to everyone who showed up that day. The following images couldn’t have been created without prop stylist extraordinaire, Cheryl Thompson, who helped source all of the fabrics in the images and my dear friend Matt Rumboldt who gave me a place to stay, a car to pick up gear and a helping hand on the day. Xo
Mummers in the Summer is a photo series dear to my heart and I am super proud to represent my home province through my work. These images showcase the unique, colourful and fun loving nature of Newfoundlanders and their traditions. I hope these quirky, goofy mummers make you smile the way they made me that day. Enjoy!
“My mummering outfit was always to be dressed up as an ole man, I enjoyed that because most of my rig up belonged to my dad or my sister’s husband. I eventually changed and added an apron that was passed on to me, it belonged to an older lady. From there I found an ole mask that to this day, I always wear it mummering in the parade.”
“I have been mummering since I was a young girl around 15 or 16 years old… We would get rigged up at one of our homes and we always went to the same houses in our community because there were only a few homes that enjoyed it most times. It was the older people whom would be acceptable of a bit of fun on xmas and even have a drop of the good stuff or syrup in my younger days.”
“I love mummering! To me, it isn’t only a tradition I grew up with, but the fun, the smiles I bring to someone’s face, summing it up, mummering brings joy and laughter to me and I always look forward to sharing it with friends.”
“I have been mummering for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small community and it was a big thing up there at Christmas and still is. For the 12 days of Christmas people go out, sometimes every night, you would try to go to as many houses as you could and the people in the houses would try to guess who you were. In the smaller communities you can do that, but in St. John’s, it’s not like that, most people go in the Mummers Parade but they don’t go visiting houses as much, unless you know the people.”
“I have many outfits, I have a big suitcase that I call my Tickle Trunk and it contains many things that can be used in mummering. Any time someone needs something to wear, they call me first to see if I have it. I do have a pair of the ugliest boots that I try to wear whenever I go mummering, my sister gave them to me for Christmas nine years ago and then she passed away in February, so they are very special to me.”
“I dress up as a mummer at different events throughout the year. I’ve done it at the Festivals during the summer, at weddings when there were come from aways, in concerts, going to seniors homes, at Flea Markets, or just on other times when I feel like it. A lot of times I go with my friend Helen and others, or with my friends from the Southern Shore and sometimes it is even with complete strangers.”
Helen & Sharon
“I love mummering because it makes everyone happy… Whatever you can do in this world to make someone happy, you got to do it.” - Sharon
Beverly, Noah, Isaiah & Sophia
“When we had these portraits taken my grandsons were visiting from Montreal. They’re growing up with an eclectic mix of Newfoundland and Trinidad roots. When I met my son-in-laws family we discovered a lot of cultural cross over from our two islands. Small fishing communities, rum, and black cake (or as we call it, boiled raisin) to name a few. One year early on in their relationship, I gifted his parents a Mummer Christmas ornament. I started explaining mummering to them and we found our next cultural cross over, Parang! I laughed saying Newfoundlanders would call that “party on” and he returned a laugh saying ‘that’s exactly what it is’. Although their faces may not be covered, Parang involves going from house to house, often late at night when all is quiet. The group will keep playing music and dancing until you invite them in for a bite and a drink. Apparently most house holds never sleep during the Christmas season, and that’s something we can all get behind.”
“One of my fondest memories was the first time my two oldest grandsons went mummering. We went out to my mothers, their great grandmothers home. Unannounced we started banging on the door and the house was full. They didn’t know who we were right away, but they let us in and we danced around and banged our ugly sticks. Everyone took turns guessing who we were, starting with the sizes of the smallest children and working their way up. I think they were still unsure who exactly the biggest of us were but they certainly knew who we were knit from.”
“Our families mummering day is Boxing Day. Our community route is now on its third generation and goes along the homes of neighbours and family. We have a few mainstays but who gets dragged along each year changes based on who is home for Christmas. We’ll go from house to house to house, often picking up more mummers and musicians along the way. The last house often becomes the biggest party.”
“I have been mummering for roughly 27 years, first time was in Clarke’s Beach on a cold moonlit night, a friends mother wanted to go mummering and said, ‘girl you can play a few tunes on that squeezebox now’, next thing some weird old clothes came out of a box and we were on our way. It was magical to me (townie) and after a half dozen stops, a few tunes and drinks later, we had a ball, laughing our guts out on the walk home.”
“I was asked to join a mummers float but decided to walk myself, everyone smiling and laughing as I went along waving and blowing kisses to everyone wishing them all a Happy Christmas, young and old alike seemed to get a kick out of it. Even a few crusty old men were out and when they saw me blowing kisses at them smiled and laughed to kill themselves. It was awesome, no one on the shore knew who I was only my Grandchildren and a few relatives. That was one of my favourite experiences, my kids couldn’t believe I even did it. ”
“For me it’s all about the laughs and seeing the faces on people as you glide along doing your thing and of course the music is a big part of it… Every year is something different and the laughs I get out of it keeps me going. I have a Mr. Dressup tickle trunk with a variety of outfits, masks and do-dads for kicks. Lots of fun, laughter and positivity, can’t wait to do it all again this year. I’ll keep going as long as I am able.
“I have been mummering since 3 or 4 years old.”
“I like to dress up in silly clothes and go mummering around… My favourite times I went mummering were Mummer’s Day at my Daycare and when I went mummering at my Aunt Margot’s house.”
“My favorite parts of mummering is the silly parts like wearing one oven mitten on my foot and one sock on the other foot and the same on my hands… And I love getting to say ‘Any Mummers ‘lowed in!”
“I have been collecting mummer statues for years now, and have always loved the ones with one piece pj’s, rubber boots, outside bras and light-shades… my outfit was a combination of all of those ( except the boots, I forgot them for the shoot!).”
“My first memory of mummering is probably when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and I must have been getting ready for bed, when a knock came on the door. I was terrified when this group of people dressed in odd, mismatched, and colourful clothes came into the kitchen! The covered faces to conceal the identities was probably the most unnerving of all!!! After the mummers identities were made and the face covering came off, it was quite the relief! I looked forward to the next Christmas! Unfortunately, as I grew older, the mummering died out! Thanks to the Mummers festival organizers, it’s making a comeback in St. John’s!”
“As a child, We would dress up and go to our grandmothers and dance around for her and she would try to guess who we were. We would Bob for apples there at our house after she guessed us.”
“What I love the most about mummering is freedom through disguise.”
“My outfit was inspired by the throwback to older Portugal cove south stories of rubber boots, plaid work jackets…etc. The old time costumes derived from everyday old fisherman’s wear. As the stories go, the Portugal cove south stories were embellished by recalling rivers of wooly (nickname for lambs rum), hours of trying to guess who was mummering and pleasant laughter for hours. Going house to house on Christmas eve. Never turned away and always welcomed.”
Susan & Paul Dynes
“Sue & I moved here to NL just 4 yrs ago. Our first exposure to mummering was in Dec of ‘19 when we went to Georgetown area to watch the Mummers parade. As far as ourselves ‘mummering’…last Dec was our 1st time partaking in the festivities!”
“Sue & I lived in Whitby, Ont. We came here in ‘17 for a weeks visit…loved it here. Went home to Whitby, closed our business, sold the house, packed whatever could fit into our VW Beetle and in July ‘18 moved our life to St.John’s. Happy Campers we are!!”
The Tunis Court Crew
“Our special moments was the 10 of us getting together in Nov ‘21 at Lisa & Kerri’s shed with our TunisLand group to make our Ugly Sticks. Mummering has made us a tighter knit community and now we look forward to getting together each year.”