CODE COVID: What the pandemic has taught us about long-term care
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
What you need to know about COVID-19 today
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
Business Tool Kit 2021
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
The Heroes of 2020
While living in Calgary, Lynn McShane would follow the stories coming out of St. John’s about the Mummer’s Festival, feeling jealous she couldn’t participate.
“Every Christmas since I was a child, I’d be taken out mummering with my aunts and my uncles who had been doing it for generations,” the St. John’s native said.
“I know my grandfather was born in 1896 and his parents knew the tradition. So, it goes back quite a long way.”
When she returned to the province in 2013, it was one of the first activities she sought out.
This year, she’s the executive director of the festival, now in its 12th year.
McShane says the tradition has endured the test of time simply because of the joy it brings.
“Especially in the outports, in the smaller communities, you made your own fun during Christmas,” she said.
As well, getting to pretend to be somebody else for an evening does have a certain merry-making quality.
“At the heart, it’s a disguising game,” she said. “You disguise how you look, how you talk, how you move, how you walk — everything. So, to go into someone’s home and have them not know who you are but then to try and guess who you are, I think that adds such a level of enjoyment to it.”
Despite having to turn to virtual events because of restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McShane says she never once considered not holding the festival.
“No, absolutely not,” she said. “We didn’t know quite what it was going to look like, but we knew we had to continue with that momentum.”
And given the kind of year 2020 has been, she knew people needed something to enjoy.
Every winter it was the same racket.
A hint of the janneying, our mother’d
Have copper kittens, but after a bit
She’d give in to us, say yes we could go.
We’d rig ourselves up in any old fit-out,
Pillows and nets, cotton drawers on our heads.
The boys let out squeaks, the girls spoke all gruff —
One finger missing a finger made up a
False one so he couldn’t be guessed.
Once we’d get in, we’d kick up the mats,
Fire up the accordion, dance the whole night —
The floor-boards’d shiver, the funnel turn red.
First light of the sun, off we’d head home,
Bellies rumbling and we ready
To eat the leg off the Lamb of God.
* In many parts of the province, it’s janneying rather than mummering. The description here is based on accounts I heard while growing up in the ’60s in the head of Conception Bay. Chris Brookes’ radio documentary on mummering helped recall those stories and gave me the image of the missing finger. (Bio: the author of five volumes of poetry, Mary Dalton is Professor Emerita of English at Memorial University and Poet Laureate of the City of St. John’s.)
Today, between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., the Mummers Festival will hold a “Virtual Rig Up,” on Facebook Live. The board of directors will show viewers how to get rigged up for mummering this Christmas.
With a hobby horse in hand, Kyle Crumsick said he discovered the tradition of mummering when he first moved to St. John’s from Oregon about 10 years ago.
“The Mummers Festival was something that was a very unique cultural experience, to say the least,” he said. “One thing I was not prepared for was the army of hobby horses. That just took my fascination.”
He began making his own and has taught workshops for the festival for several years.
Angie O’Brien, Cheryl Stacey and Myrtle Mitchell are a group of friends who volunteer with the festival and were more than happy to get dressed up when The Telegram arrived at the festival’s headquarters in Victoria Park this week.
“It’s fun and you meet great people, but I miss the parade this year,” Stacey said. “When Lynn sent the email the three of us got together and said ‘Yup, we’re going.’”
In what looked like a tablecloth draped over her head, Mitchell said it was the second year the trio of friends have volunteered with the festival and getting dressed up still feels fantastic.
O’Brien was decked out in a vibrant hat, floral patterned skirt and a bright red sweater with a 42D brassiere wrapped around the outside.
“It just came out of the closet,” she said of her ensemble.
Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.