Summerside Recreation Committee holding a mummers parade

Diane
Diane Crocker
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CORNER BROOK  During her younger days living in Summerside, Olive Penney recalls dressing up more than once at Christmas.

But it wasn’t anything fancy — maybe just an old long dress down to the ground to cover the jacket she wore to keep warm.

“You just put a cloth over your face, or you just have a funny old mask or something like that,” said Penney, 93, of her mummering costume.

“I did that years and years and years ago. Well everybody was into it then. A crowd would gather up in the day say ‘oh we’ll go out tonight.’ There was nothing else to do. We had to do that or sit in the house.”

She said no one was particular about what they wore.

“You know you’d dress up in all those funny clothes you could find. And you’d go from house to house to see if they could recognize you,” she said. “Oh it was a great time.”

Penney said back in the 1940s, when mummering at Christmas was quite common, groups of mummers, or jannies as they’re also known, would walk for miles from one end of the town to the other.

There were no cars around and the roads she said were “hardly fit to walk on,” but that didn’t stop the fun.

It’s been about 50 years since Penney has mummered. She said it wasn’t a practice that happened when she lived in Toronto and by the time she returned home the tradition had mostly died out.

She said over the years she heard of people making too much racket and some violence.

“It seems like now it’s coming back,” said Penney.

Back it will be in Summerside on Dec. 22 when the Summerside Recreation Committee holds a mummers parade. The parade will start at 2 p.m. at the Summerside community hall. Participants will walk from the hall to the church, then to Brent’s Convenience and back to the hall for snacks.

“Basically what we’re just trying to do is bring back some Newfoundland tradition,” said committee chair Barry Wheeler.

“Christmas should not just simply be about losing the traditional things that made Newfoundland unique during Christmas.”

While Wheeler said there are still one or two groups that “janny” every year, it’s been around 20 years since it was a common practice.

Like Penney, Wheeler recalls travelling the town dressed up over Christmas and said it was, “Just a social thing. It was more or less some good innocent fun. Just to see some of the faces light up when you knocked on their door and you went in.”

Wheeler said there was always that bit of mystery around trying to figure out who the mummers were.

Since starting to promote the parade, Wheeler said the response has been “phenomenal,” and that people from communities all over the west coast have contacted the committee wanting to take part.

Wheeler said the committee is looking at making the parade not only an annual event but expanding it into more of a festival.

One person who can’t wait to see the results of this year’s effort is Penney.

A bad knee will keep her out of the parade, but as a volunteer with the recreation committee she’ll be at the hall waiting to greet the parade participants and have laugh at all the costumes.

“To see the difference in ours and now, you know.”

And she has a bit of advice for participants when it comes to putting together a costume.

“They wants to put warm clothes on first, so they won’t be cold,” she said, “and then put some old raggedy stuff on and flashy stuff.”

Organizations: Summerside Recreation Committee

Geographic location: Summerside, Newfoundland, Toronto

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  • Deanne Bond (Brake)
    December 10, 2013 - 22:36

    So happy to see people bringing the spirit of Christmas back, I remember a few years back we went home at Christmas from Ontario and the family got together with us and we went Janning, it had been years since I had done it my husband never had, and we had so much fun !!! We will never forget that night people were so happy and friendly. Have a great day on Dec 22, 2013 we will all be watching for how the mummering parade went and of course the party after...love to you all and have a blast Penny