Nfld. & Labrador

What's a hobby horse? Mummers Festival hopes to bring back old Newfoundland tradition

Organizers of the Mummers Festival want to make this year's event focused on an old Newfoundland tradition that's been somewhat lost over the years.

Festival looking for people to share childhood stories about the forgotten craft

Organizers of the Mummers Festival plan to make hobby horses a theme of this year's festival. ( (Facebook/ Mummers Festival))

Hobby horses are, hopefully, making a comeback.

The crafts, which were made throughout the island as part of Christmas celebrations decades ago, will be the focus of this years Mummers Festival.

"We've never really treated the hobby horse as its own theme, and [we] would like to broaden the public's knowledge on this," said festival director Ryan Davis.

"It doesn't seem to be very much in living memory anymore, and we are trying to find out more."

Typically, hobby horses involved putting a cloth animal head, often a horse, on a stick with a movable jaw that opened and closed to make a snapping noise, which was called a "snock."

The Mummers Festival shared this notice on social media, hoping to get more information about the old Christmas tradition of making hobby horses. (/FacebookMummers Festival)

Even though the Mummers Festival has been offering workshops on making hobby horses since its inception, this year it's hoping to put an extra emphasis on them. They are looking for people to come forward with any stories they may have about the somewhat forgotten tradition.

Hobby horses can come in many different forms, such as this one, which was seen during the 2016 Mummers Festival. (Facebook/Mummers Festival)

Though it was a holiday staple, hobby horses were usually meant to be kind of creepy, and were often used to chase and frighten children. Davis said much of the information known about hobby horses in Newfoundland comes from Memorial University folklore surveys that were distributed throughout the province in 1966.

Creepy tradition

Davis said the tradition of making hobby horses started in England and Ireland but somehow became part of Newfoundland mummering.

"People would create some weird, creepy horse puppet — often out of a junk of wood or even out of the real head of an animal," he said.

"In Newfoundland, mummering was less of a performance and more of a house visit, and somehow the horse found its way into the tradition."

While mummering has seen a bit of a resurgence in Newfoundland and Labrador culture, Davis and other organizers hope they can spur some memories in people who may remember this lost part of Newfoundland Christmas culture.

"This part of the tradition really disappeared, and we've had a hard time finding people who either made one or have memories of that," he said.

"We would love to speak to those people and get a better idea of really how it went down."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show