Nfld. & Labrador

'I stuffed my butt so I can shake it': Mummers dance in the streets of St. John's

Hundreds of mummers in bras and boxers showed up on Saturday afternoon for a scuff and a scoff at the annual Mummers Festival in St. John's.

Costumed tradition brings fun and dancing to Buckmaster's Circle

The ninth annual Mummers Festival hit the streets of St. John's on Saturday for the grand parade. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Veiled in a lace doily while sporting a stuffed bra and flannel boxers, an androgynous figure stood between two bathrooms at the Buckmaster's Circle Recreation Centre.

The costumed character glanced at both doors and shrugged before opting for the ladies room.

Gender is always a guessing game at the annual Mummer's Festival in St. John's — where men dress as women, and women dress as men.

"I stuffed my bra with some shirts and I got an old lady mask on, and then I stuffed my butt so I can shake it," said 11-year-old Jaden Moore.

For anyone not familiar with the tradition of mummering, the sight of Saturday's parade could be, well, startling.

According to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, the act of mummering dates back to 1583, when Sir Humphrey Gilbert brought outrageous costumes on his expedition to Newfoundland to keep people entertained.

It eventually became a Christmas tradition, where groups of people would stumble around their communities and invite themselves into people's homes.

The homeowners would have to guess who was hidden behind the ugly old garments.

While its popularity has waned in recent years, the act is still honoured each year in the Mummers Festival.

The event kicked off at 1 p.m. with the "rig up," where people got together in the gym and dressed up. There were cross-dressing seniors, kids wearing beef buckets with eye holes, and dogs in flannel woodsman coats.

By 2 p.m., the group had formed up and hundreds went walking through downtown St. John's.

There were plenty of children in the group, as parents tried to teach their kids a bit about the province's wacky and wild tradition.

"It's part of Newfoundland's culture and stuff," said Chris Oliver, who brought his son. "Then when you bring the little ones, they get to see it and be a part of it, too. So then maybe it becomes tradition for them down the road, too."

Not all the mummers' costumes are cute and colourful. Some are downright creepy. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The festival began in 2009 and is now a two-week celebration culminating in the parade. Since its inception, 12 other communities have begun their own version of the festival.

"It's fantastic, it's just fun and real merriment," said one masked mummer in passing. "I feel more in the Christmas spirit now than I have in a while."

Despite wearing prescription glasses over the mask, the woman bumped into several people along the route.

"I'm probably going to get lost. But I'm sure that will be OK. That'll be part of the fun."