Wassailing, Kukeri, and Mumming Oh My!
With each new Christmas I see, I find myself fascinated with old seasonal traditions. Whether it’s Victorian ghost stories or the pre-Christian symbols of Yule, there’s always something new to discover this time of year.
A Tale for a Winter’s Night
For the Victorian English, ghost stories at Christmas were just as common as Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs are on the…
One thing I’ve learned this Christmas season is how many different old traditions there are which involve visiting neighbour’s houses on Christmas or around Christmas. Modern North Americans are likely only familiar with carolling — where groups of singers travel from house-to-house to sing festive songs and bring cheer — but there are several European traditions, some of which date back to Pre-Christian seasonal celebrations.
Also known as Mummering, the origins of this tradition are unknown, but it was widely practiced in the UK and Ireland from at least as far back as medieval times, and Newfoundland, Canada — where there’s even a Mumming festival today — in the 19th c., though it was temporarily outlawed in the mid-1800s after someone was allegedly murdered by mummers.
During the Twelve Days of Christmas or the twelve days between Christmas Day and January 5th, groups of friends and family travel to various houses in their neighbourhood and ask for entry. The groups are usually dressed in costumer and do not reveal who is who. The mummers didn’t speak, either, only saying “mmm” or “mum” – this is where we get the expression, “mum’s the word.”
If the mummers are let in, the hosts then attempt to guess who each mummer is — though many strategies are used for hiding their identity, such as padding themselves with cushions or disguising their voices. Once all identities are revealed, the masks come off and there is food and drink and singing. Sometimes there was even some…