The Mummers of Newfoundland: Background information when reading Galore

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Galore

A Novel

by Michael Crummey

Galore by Michael Crummey
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    Mar 2011, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Dawson Oakes

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Beyond the Book:
The Mummers of Newfoundland

Print Review

Two vivid and lively scenes in Galore reflect the occasion of mummers performing house-visits in the fictional outport community of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland. The practice of mumming (also known as mummering or janneying)  in Newfoundland originated with the early immigrants from Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Mumming is based within the traditions of folk drama and masquerading and often occurs on the last night of the Twelve Days of Christmas (January 5th).   There are several different types of mumming: house visits, the parade of mummers and the mummers play.

In a typical house visit, mummers don disguises created from old clothes, rags and pillow cases to hide their identity, with men often dressing as women and vice versa. Often, at least one mummer will modify a traditional hobby horse so that the jaws are hinged and then, with the aid of a bit of sacking or some such, will disguise themselves as a talking horse. The group of mummers will then travel about the community seeking to gain entrance to homes. Once invited inside, the hosts try to identify each mummer and, once correctly identified, the mummer will reveal him or herself to the hosts. Once revealed, the mummer is considered a friend and refreshments are served. When all have been identified, the mummers move to the next house.

Well into the 20th century, there was a very strong tradition of mumming in the outports of Newfoundland; but by the late 1960s the tradition had all but faded away. In 1997, singer-songwriter Loreena McKenna released a song called "The Mummers' Dance". It surprised those in the music industry by becoming a hit, reaching number three in the USA Adult Top 40 chart, and leading to a revived interest in the custom of mumming.



St. John's, Newfoundland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are the two North American cities with the strongest and longest running mummers tradition. In Philadelphia, every New Year's Day sees the running of the Mummers Parade with over 10,000 marching in the 2011 parade.  In St. John's, the Mummers Parade takes place in mid-December with hundreds of participants bringing revelry and antics to the downtown route. To these cities, the Mummers Parade is as distinct and long-running a tradition as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans.

This article is from the April 20, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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