Mummer Dolls


Mummer Doll When early English and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland and Labrador, they brought with them the tradition of “Mummering”, also known as “Janneying”. Any individual participating in this tradition was commonly called a “mummer” or a “janney”. A mummer would dress in costume with the hopes of disguising his or her personal appearance and to prevent recognition from neighbours or passers-by. Typically travelling in groups, the mummers would visit door-to-door during the twelve days of Christmas.

At each house, the mummers would knock on the door and shout in a distorted voice: “Any mummers ‘llowed in?” If the residents of the house welcomed the mummers inside, the mummers would perform music, dances, and skits for the hosts. The mummers brought instruments such as accordions, fiddles, guitars, spoons, or harmonicas to accompany their singing and dancing. Jigs, reels, waltzes, Christmas carols, and traditional songs were all part of the mummers’ repertory. While the mummers offered their entertainment, the residents of the house would guess the identity of the masked characters. If one of the hosts guessed the correct identity of a particular mummer, that mummer would then remove his or her mask and declare his or her real identity. If no one was successful in guessing the real name of a mummer, there was no requirement for that mummer to remove his or her mask. However, given the physical demands of the dancing and the constant heat from the wood stove, some mummers would remove a part of their costume as a means to cool themselves.

Mummers were usually hosted in the kitchen where they were offered cake, cheese, beer, rum or some other strong spirit. The exchange of food, drink, music, and dance was known as a “time”. The time was a means for mummers and hosts to spread Christmas cheer and camaraderie. After extending a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to their hosts, the mummers would then leave and travel to the next house – often singing and playing along their way. The tradition of mummering characterizes the culture of tolerance and hospitality found in the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Twillingate Museum and Craft Shop holds a beautiful collection of Mummer Dolls made by a local crafts person. A very unique and collectable item, the Mummer Doll is sold in a wide variety of colors and styles and is dressed in a traditional hand-made costume. In addition, prints, bookmarks, and Christmas cards portraying the tradition of mummering are available at the Craft Shop.

Mummer Doll