The Mummer's Dance

Loreena McKennitt:  The Mummer's Dance

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

Mummers in Newfoundland at Christmas

the Mummers' Parade in Philadelphia on New Years Day

artist:  Loreena McKennitt

songwriter:  Loreena McKennitt

date released:  1997 by Loreena McKennitt

McKennitt was born in Morden, Manitoba, to parents of Irish and Scottish descent. She developed her love for music, influenced, in part, by the musical traditions of the local Mennonite community.

McKennitt enrolled at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg to become a veterinarian. While in Winnipeg she discovered folk music, including fellow Canadians Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. After performing at the inaugural Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974, McKennitt became interested in Celtic music and visited Ireland to hear it for herself. Developing a passion for Celtic music, she learned to play the Celtic harp and began busking at various places, including St. Lawrence Market in Toronto to earn money to record her first album.

In 1981, she moved to Stratford, Ontario, to join the Stratford Festival acting company, and still resides there.

"The Mummer's Dance" is arguably one of McKennitt's most successful singles receiving widespread radio play during the spring of 1997.  It was used as the theme song for the television show, "Legacy." 

The Gage Canadian Dictionary definition of "a mummer" is:  a person who wears a mask, fancy costume or disguise for fun; an actor in one of the rural plays traditionally performed in England and elsewhere at Christmas. 

Mummers' plays are seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as "mummers."  The carnival-like tradition originated in England during the Middle Ages and spread to other countries.  The tradition is still alive in Newfoundland, Kentucky, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and some parts of England.  

In the rural south coast of Newfoundland, people still disguise themselves with old articles of clothing  and visit the homes of their friends and neighbours during the twelve days of Christmas, usually on the night of the "Old Twelfth."  They keep their identities a secret by covering their faces with a hood, scarf, mask or pillowcase.  Sometimes, they carry their own musical instruments to play, sing and dance in every house they visit.  The password for a standard mummer is "ANY MUMMERS ALLOWED IN?"

When mummers arrive at a door, the house's inhabitants try to guess the identity of the mummer. If one is guessed, the mask comes off.  If the identity remains a mystery, the mask stays on. 

The host and hostess of these "mummers' parties" usually serve a small lunch of Christmas cake with a glass of syrup, blueberry or dogwood wine.  It is customary to celebrate with a glass of grog---an alcoholic beverage with rum or whiskey.  Needless to say, a merry time is had by all.

The tradition of mummering has died off in the urban areas, but has seen a resurgence in the rural because of a popular musical duo, Simini, who wrote a popular tune called "The Mummer's Song" in 1982.  Since then, the tradition of mummery has been revived.

 Currently, a mummers' parade is held every New Year's Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where mummers prepare elaborate costumes and moveable scenery and parade down the streets.  The tradition is not unlike what appears in the video.