Nfld. & Labrador

Mummering on the mainland: N.L. holiday tradition continues in Ontario town

In the small, northern Ontario town of Marathon, a group of Newfoundlanders are doing their best to carry on a tradition dating back over a century.

Newfoundlanders now living in Marathon, Ont., are carrying on a centuries old tradition

Dennis Taylor, Lew Boyd, Dean Wells, Denise Wells and Carmel Tremblatt Taylor (from left to right) pose for a photo before heading out for a night of mummering in Marathon, On. (Submitted)

In the small, northern Ontario town of Marathon, a group of Newfoundlanders are doing their best to carry on a tradition dating back over a century.

Every Boxing Day, Carmel Tremblett Taylor and her husband break open their tickle trunk and dress up in anything they can get their hands on.

There's a lot of laughs, and we just don't wanna forget what Christmas is all about.- Carmel Tremblett Taylor

They put on old men and women's clothes, cover their faces with pillowcases, pull out their rubber boots, grab an ugly stick and head on down to a neighbour's house.

Knock knock: the mummers are here.

"We play the Mummer's Song and we dance around the kitchen and people enjoy us … and then they gotta guess who we are," said Taylor.

Carmel Tremblett Taylor's move away from Newfoundland didn't stop her from carrying on holiday traditions with family and friends. (Submitted )

In Marathon, many Newfoundland and Labrador ex-pats have taken up residence, and Taylor found a receptive crowd to the idea of mummering when her family moved to Marathon from Grand Falls-Windsor in 1995.

Cultural miscommunications

The only problem, she said, is that sometimes mainlanders don't quite get it.

She recalls one year when the mummers visited a home, and the woman behind the door thought they were dangerous.

We had a good laugh at it. But she didn't think it was funny.- Carmel Tremblett Taylor

"We went to the door and they wouldn't let us in. The lady stood in the window and she was staring at us and I said, 'Well, I think we better leave,'" she said.

"Three of us had ugly sticks, so as we were walking away, she got on the phone and phoned a friend of ours and said 'We had gangsters at our house!'"

Two mummers knock on an elderly woman's door, in this painting by Carmel Tremblett Taylor. (Carmel Tremblett Taylor)

The woman mistook the mummers' ugly sticks for something much more sinister: machetes.

"We had a good laugh at it. But she didn't think it was funny."

But for any Newfoundlander abroad who wants to head out mummering on Boxing Day, Taylor said not to sweat the misunderstandings and "go for it."

"The Mummer's Song. There's nothing better than the Mummer's Song,"  she said.

"We have a lot of excitement doing it, there's a lot of laughs, and we just don't wanna forget what Christmas is all about."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Sampson is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.

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