Showing posts with label christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christmas. Show all posts

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Living Heritage Podcast Ep162 Revitalizing the Heart's Delight-Islington Christmas Carols

In days past, Christmas Eve in Heart’s Delight-Islington would ring with the singing of  their own special Christmas carols. The tradition involved the door-to-door singing of two specific carols which had been passed down over the past century. Originally, they were sung by men, who would travel to every house in the community. Other communities in the area, such as Cavendish and Green's Harbour, also once sang a version of the carols, but the tradition remains strongest in Heart’s Delight-Islington.

The custom continues with some changes over time, but more work is needed to safeguard this very special local tradition.  In this podcast, we chat with Stan Reid and Howard Sooley, two long-time carolers who are working to ensure this tradition is carried on to the next generation.  We talk about the past and present of the tradition, and where they would like to see it in the future.

Note: On Dec 12th, as part of this year's Mummers Festival, The Rooms will be hosting an afternoon Coffee and Culture with participants from Heart's Delight-Islington. Facebook event here. Photo courtesy Geraldine Legge.


The Living Heritage Podcast is about people who are engaged in the heritage and culture sector, from museum professionals and archivists, to tradition bearers and craftspeople - all those who keep history alive at the community level. The show is a partnership between HeritageNL and CHMR Radio. Theme music is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Virgin Most Pure: A look at the Heart's Delight-Islington Christmas Carol tradition

Over the past year, I’ve met a couple times with the new heritage committee in Heart’s Delight-Islington, Trinity Bay. At our last meeting, we had a chat about how the heritage committee might work with the Town and the Recreation Committee to revitalize the Heart’s Delight-Islington Christmas Carol tradition.

The tradition involved the door-to-door singing of two specific carols which have been passed down over the past century. Other communities in the area, such as Cavendish and Green's Harbour, also once did a version of the carols, but the tradition remains strongest in Heart’s Delight-Islington. You can read more about the tradition in Chapter 7 of the book “Heart’s Delight - Islington: From Isolated Communities… To A Growing Town” Printed by Full Circle Printing for The Town of Heart’s Delight - Islington, circa 1990.

What the book identifies as Carol #1 is a variant of what is known historically as “A Virgin Most Pure” or “A Virgin Unspotted.” A few online sources suggest that the earliest known version of the text is in "New Carolls for this Merry Time of Christmas" (London, 1661).

The first verse was included in the fabulously-titled “Wyeth's repository of sacred music. Part second. : Original and selected from the most eminent and approved authors in that  science; for the use of Christian churches, singing-schools &  private societies. : Together with a copious and plain introduction to the grounds of music, and rules for learners” by John Wyeth, circa 1813-1820.

Below, you can see the Heart’s Delight-Islington version, and compare it with Wyeth’s first verse, and remaining verses which were included in a Maryland shape note song book published between 1800 and 1830. This combined version comes from The Second Penguin Book of Christmas Carols, by Elizabeth Poston, 1970. The Heart's Delight-Islington version is one verse longer;  the "Virgin Most Pure" version has a refrain which is repeated between each verse, which goes: "Then let us be merry, cast sorrows away; / Our saviour, Christ Jesus, was born on this day."

Heart's Delight-Islington Carol #1

A virgin most pure, most pure behold
Brought forth our dear Saviour, as we have been told 
For to be our Redeemer from death, hell and sin 
From Satan's transgressions, the ruler of sin. 

Near Bethelem City of Judah so fair, 
Great multitudes of people together were there, 
And they to be taxed as the custom ran so 
Twas Caesar commanded that it should be so. 

And when they had entered that city so fair, 
Both Mary and Joseph together were there. 
Their lodgings were simple; they beheld it no scorn. 
By the very next morning our Saviour was born. 

The King of all glory to this world now has come. 
Small stores of fine linen to wrap him so warm. 
Where Mary had a swaddling of a young son so sweet, 
Down in the ox manger where she laid him to sleep. 

Then God sent an Angel from Heaven so high 
To give shepherds warning in fields where they lie. 
Bidding them to be merry; drive sorrow away. 
For our Saviour, Christ Jesus, was born that same day 

Then shortly after a shepherd did spy 
Great multitudes of Angels appeared in the sky. 
And so merrily they were talking, and so sweetly did sing 
All praise be glory to our Heavenly king.

A Virgin Most Pure

A virgin most pure, as prophets foretold,
Should bring forth a Saviour which now we behold,
To be our Redeemer from death, hell and sin,
Which Adam's transgression involved us all in.

Through Bethlehem City in Jewry it was,
That Joseph and Mary together did pass;
And for to be taxed when thither they came,
Since Caesar Augustus commanded the same.

But Mary's full time being come, as we find,
That brought forth her first born to serve all mankind;
The inn being full, for this heavenly guest,
No place there was found for to lay him to rest.

But Mary, blest Mary, so meek and so mild,
Soon wrapped in swaddlings this heavenly child;
Contented she laid him where oxen did feed,
The great God of nature approved of the deed.

Then presently after, the shepherds did spy
Vast numbers of angels to stand in the sky;
So merrily talking, so sweet did they sing;
All glory and praise to our heavenly King. 

The book "88 Favourite Carols and Hymns for Christmas" printed circa 1830 includes the "A Virgin Unspotted" first line, and a different final verse:
To teach us humility all this was done
And learn us from hence haughty pride to shun;
A manger his cradle though He came from above!
The great God of Mercy, of Peace, and of Love. 
If you have a memory of this tradition (or photos!) comment below or email 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Mummers #FolklorePhoto

Courtesy of Yva Momatuik and John Eastcott, This Marvellous Terrible Place: Images of Newfoundland and Labrador(Camden East, Ontario: Camden House Publishing, ©1988) 137.

Mummering - also known as jannying, depending on what area of the island your in - is a longstanding tradition in Newfoundland. Mummering is a calendar custom that takes place around Christmas time, usually beginning on Boxing Day (or St. Stephen's Day). People dress up to conceal their identity and journey from house to house, hoping for a drop of rum and some Christmas cake. In this photo we have mummers from François South Coast of Newfoundland.

Have you ever gone mummering?

If you would like to know more about the controversial history of mummering, click here to listen to our podcast with Joy Fraser.

-Katie Harvey

Monday, December 25, 2017

#CollectiveMemories Monday - Christmas Memories with Joan Keating

Ron and Joan Keating.
On October 23, 2017, as part of the Collective Memories project, I interviewed Joan Keating of St. John’s. Joan was born in the 1940s and grew up on Cookstown Road and Kent Place in St. John’s. In this interview we discuss children’s games, local shops and stores, and of course Christmas memories. Listen to the clips below to hear Joan describe how her family would deliver Christmas present to family members by slide, and hear some of her recollections of the Water Street Christmas raffle.

If you would like to listen to the full clip click here to visit Memorial University’s Digital Archives Initiative.

How did you celebrate Christmas? Did you deliver presents by slide? Do you recall the Christmas raffle?

~Terra Barrett

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Month of Christmas Baking: Coconut Lemon Crumble Bars #FoodwaysFriday

Coconut Lemon Crumble Bars. Photo courtesy Rock Recipes.

This is the final post for the month of Christmas baking series. My freezer is filled with cookies and Christmas is only two days away!

These squares are a twist on the classic date square which we all know and love. Lemon is something I had never really associated with Christmastime, but other people have told me a cookie like this is a staple in their homes for the holidays. So here is the recipe (from Rock Recipes):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups dried coconut medium cut
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup butter cut in small pieces

  • 1/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/3 cup corn starch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 egg yolks slightly beaten
  • Zest of 2 large or 3 small lemons, very finely chopped
  • Juice of 2 large or 3 small lemons
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • pinch salt

  1. TO MAKE THE LEMON FILLING combine the corn starch, salt, cake flour, sugar and water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  3. Pour about 1/2 cup of the thickened mixture over the beaten egg yolks and whisk together quickly. This tempers the egg yolks so that they do not scramble.
  4. Pour this mixture back into the pot and whisk it in quickly. Return the pot to the heat and stir constantly for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and evenly smooth.
  5. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest and remove from the heat.
  6. Finally whisk in the butter and set aside to cool while you prepare the crumble mixture.
  7. FOR THE CRUMBLE mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, coconut and salt.
  8. Using your hands or a pastry blender cut in the butter until the it is completely incorporated into the dry ingredients.
  9. Press half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch well greased baking pan. Pour the lemon filling evenly over the bottom crumbs. Gently sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the lemon filling and press down gently.
  10. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 - 45 minutes or until light golden brown in color. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares and serving.

Recipe Notes
If you plan to freeze these cookie bars, for all crumble type cookies, I always thaw them on a wire cake rack and never in a closed container. There's a lot of humidity in some freezers that gets trapped inside and can start to make baked goods soggy as they thaw. My method always avoids that problem for me.

Enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas!

-Katie Harvey

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Month of Christmas Baking: Dark Fruitcake #FoodwaysFriday

Photo courtesy

Fruitcake was a staple at Christmas time for my family. There was always a couple pieces in the freezer year-round, leftover from Christmas. Fruitcake was a topic that arose at the Heritage Foundation's recent Mummers Memory Mug-Up. Participants discussed how at Christmastime there was always dark fruitcake and light fruitcake. It was a treat that mummers would receive from their hosts when visiting from house to house.

Here is the recipe for a dark fruitcake, sure to please any guests, including mummers, over the holidays (from

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups hot water
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup dates, chopped
1 box raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp mace
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 beaten egg
2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup chopped cherries
1 cup mixed fruit
1 capful rum or brandy
1 capful lemon almond extract
1 capful vanilla

In a large saucepan, combine brown sugar, hot water, butter, chopped dates, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, mace, nutmeg. Bring to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool. Add egg, baking soda, flour, cherries, mixed fruit, rum, lemon almond extract and vanilla. Combine together. Place in 9 or 10 inch greased tube pan at 300F for 2 hours.

Do you have any memories of fruitcake?

-Katie Harvey

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Month of Christmas Baking: Devil Bars #FoodwaysFriday

Photo by Katie Harvey.

The Christmas cookies I remember best from my childhood were affectionately nicknamed "Devil Bars" by my family. They were called this due to the fact that whenever my mother made them they were impossible to stop eating because they were so delicious. The base of this cookie is shortbread, a thick layer of caramel lies in the middle, and the bar is topped with milk chocolate.

I always make Devil Bars over Christmas, and this year is no acceptation. They freeze well and are easy to make. The caramel is the trickiest part, but using condensed milk makes it much easier than making it from scratch, and it may even be more delicious. I find it is best to make them the day before and leave them to chill in the fridge overnight.

Here is my recipe:

  • 2/3 cup butter, softened 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together 2/3 cup butter, white sugar, and flour until evenly crumbly. Press into a 9 inch square baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
  3. In a 2 quart saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Pour over baked crust (warm or cool). Cool until it begins to firm.
  4. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 1 minute, then stir and continue to heat and stir at 20 second intervals until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour chocolate over the caramel layer and spread evenly to cover completely. Chill in the fridge overnight.
Have you ever eaten this cookie? What do you call them?

-Katie Harvey

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Month of Christmas Baking: Lassy Mogs #FoodwaysFriday

Photo courtesy Rock Recipes.

December has begun, and Christmas is in the air. If you're anything like me, you've already started your Christmas baking. I love having a variety of cookies, cakes and baked goods for my guests over the holidays. So, for the month of December I will post various traditional Newfoundland recipes that are sure to please any crowd.

Molasses is a staple in the diet of Newfoundlanders, and lassy is simply short for molasses. The origin of 'mog' is a little less clear. Some people believe it means girl, while others say a mog is a small, slow rising cake. Historically, molasses were used as the main form of sweetener for baked goods in Newfoundland. White sugar was more expensive, and so it was saved for special use or for teatime.

Here is the recipe, which yields a dozen cookies (courtesy of Rock Recipes). You can alter the amount of molasses you use based on how dark you want your cookies to turn out.

  • 2 1/4 cups + 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp powdered ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates chopped to the size of raisins
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup toasted pecan pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. First, toast the pecans at 350 degrees F so that they can cool to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the recipe.I toast whole pecans on a baking sheet for 10-12 minutes tossing them at the half way point. I then cool them and break each one into 2-4 pieces by hand. This little extra effort ensures nice big crunchy bits of pecan in every bite.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda and spices and set aside.
  4. Cream together the butter and brown sugar for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the egg for another minute or so.
  6. Blend in the molasses and vinegar. (The vinegar often occurs in old recipes as a way to boost eh rising action of baking soda.)
  7. Fold in the dry ingredients by hand and when almost incorporated fold in the dates, raisins and pecans.
  8. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the parchment lined cookie sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart.
  9. Bake for 14 minutes and let the cookies cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Store in airtight containers. These cookies will freeze very well.

Enjoy, and let us know how they turn out!

-Katie Harvey

Friday, July 7, 2017

Living Heritage Podcast Ep079 The Isaac Mercer Mummer Murder

Joy Fraser is Assistant Professor of English and Associate Director of the Folklore Studies program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, USA. She is completing a book tracing the cultural history of haggis as a contested symbol of Scottishness, provisionally entitled Addressing the Haggis: Culture and Contestation in the Making of Scotland’s National Dish. For the past several years, she has also been researching the relationship between Christmas mumming, violence, and the law in nineteenth-century Newfoundland.

In this episode, we focus on the murder of Isaac Mercer in Bay Roberts, who was beset upon by mummers, hit with a hatchet, and who died of his wounds. We explore the background of mummering traditions in Newfoundland, differences in mummering traditions in different communities, the events surrounding the murder case, her research using court case records at local archives, the licensing and eventual banning of mummering, and the link between mummering and violence in the historical period.

Listen on the Digital Archive:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

#Folklorephoto Do You Have a Handmade Christmas Stocking? This Knitted Example Was Made by Eliza Genge, Anchor Point

How many people will have similar stockings hanging on the mantle for Christmas? This photo of a handmade knitted Christmas stocking was collected by Lisa Wilson in 2010 while conducting an oral history interview with Eliza Genge of Anchor Point. 

To listen to Lisa's interview with Eliza Genge and see other examples of Eliza's work, visit Memorial University's Digital Archives Initiative

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Living Heritage Podcast Ep064 Behind the Red Suit: Secrets from a Knight of St. Nicholas

Bruce Templeton’s journey with Santa has taken three phases so far. In 1978, he was asked to "play Santa." he was an actor. In 1982, he held the hand of a dying child whose last words were "Santa, Santa." Then he became Santa. And in the last few years, he has met St. Nicholas who has joined them on their visits. Bruce has joined Santa in the parades for 37 years and they have 50 visits each year in less than 30 days. Their last visit is to the Janeway on Christmas Eve where Santa holds the newest newborn born on Christmas Eve.

In this podcast we discuss Bruce’s journey with Santa, becoming a Knight of St. Nicholas, the history and myth of St. Nicholas, the work of Mrs. Claus, the Flight to the North Pole, the Santa Claus Parade, the Teddy Bear Project, and some of his favourite stories throughout his time with Santa Claus.

Listen on the Digital Archive:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

“King of All Birds”: a public forum about NL Wren traditions

The wren is just one of several Christmastime house-visiting traditions that continues here today. Typically, children or adults will visit homes within their community carrying around an effigy of a small bird—the wren. Upon visiting a home, they usually recite a poem declaring the wren the “King of All Birds” and may offer some kind of performance, be it song, joke, or recitation.

Join us for the last event of the Mummers Festival on Wednesday, Dec. 14 from 7:00 to 8:30pm at The Rooms. In this public forum, meet some of the people who are keeping this tradition alive in Newfoundland & Labrador. Come learn about the history of the wren tradition and how it’s happening today. For more information visit

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas: A Mummer Media Roundup!

Merry Christmas to you, one and all!

The 2015 Mummers Festival got a lot of attention this year, and I wanted to pull some of the media coverage together in one place.

Newfoundland's annual Mummers Festival aims to revive a centuries-old Christmas tradition
The Globe and Mail

Making Mummeries
The Telegram

‘Any mummers ‘lowed in?’ Keeping a Christmas tradition alive in Newfoundland.
Yahoo News

St. John's 2015 Mummer's Parade

Photo by Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail. Christine Legrow wears a lampshade and doily on her head.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday's Folklore Photo: Did Labrador have the first Christmas tree in North America?

Larry Dohey, the local archivist who runs the fabulous Archival Moments blog, posted this photo today, from The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 118-48.2: Grenfell Mission Staff Photograph Album, of a miniature Christmas tree.

Larry argues that while the oldest documented Christmas tree in North America is from 1781 in Sorel, Quebec, the Moravian settlements in Labrador date to 1771, and that they quite possibly had the tradition there first.

Read the full blog post here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What's happening Thursday-Saturday in Intangible Cultural Heritage

It is going to be a busy three days! Buckle up, fans of folklore!
Thursday, 12 December, 2013
12:30pm - Mummering Crosstalk on CBC Radio noon with folklorist Dale Jarvis with the Heritage Foundation of NL, and Dara Valelly, with the Armagh Rhymers. Listen online here or phone in with your memories of janneys, mummers, hobby horses, wren boys, and nalujuit! 
2:30pm - Mumming in Northern Ireland: a documentary and talk with the Armagh Rhymers at The Rooms 
8:00pm - Armagh Rhymers at the Inne of Olde, Quidi Vidi: an evening of traditional fireside entertainment with Northern Ireland's Armagh Rhymers. Come for a drink and a session of Irish songs, tunes and poetry. Facebook event listing. $10 at the door

Friday, 13 December, 2013
1:00pm - ICH Mini Forum, MMaP, Arts and Culture Centre: come see what work is happening in our community related to folklore, oral history, and intangible cultural heritage. Free, and open to the public, but you can RSVP and find more detail here. 
7:00pm - Lighting of the Boats in Port de Grave: one of the province's new, brilliant Christmas traditions. Like them on Facebook!

Saturday, 14 December, 2013 - Mummers Parade!
1:00pm - Rig up at Bishop Feild School 
2:00pm - Parade Starts 
3:00pm - Scoff and Scuff outside The Rooms, with The Concert Crowd and the Armagh Rhymers!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday's Folklore Photo: Christmas Cookies for Santa

Courtesy of: The Rooms Provincial Archives
VA 73-8.4; John B. Bisbee dressed as Santa Claus.
John B. Bisbee, medical student and theological volunteer.
The costume, trimmed in rabbit fur, was made by nurse Alice Bates.
Date of Creation: December 25, 1913
It's just 22 more sleeps until the big guy dressed in red shimmies down all our respective chimneys, with gifts for all the good little boys and girls. In order to butter up Santa for a heftier stocking and to thank the jolly old elf for his hard work, a common Christmas tradition is to leave cookies for Santa to snack on. Below are recipes for cookies one might commonly see around the Christmas holidays in Newfoundland and Labrador. So if you don't have your baking started, here's some inspiration to get you going!

Recipes of Newfoundland Dishes. Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's. 1971.

Cookbook: Featuring Favorite Newfoundland Recipes. Compiled by George Street United Church Women's Association. Revised Edition. 1956-1957.
Cookbook: Featuring Favorite Newfoundland Recipes. Compiled by George Street United Church Women's Association. Revised Edition. 1956-1957.
Christmas Card from G.S. Doyle to Job Kean. Ca. 1900-1920
Courtesy of: Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Archives and Special Collections Division 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Vintage Newfoundland Christmas - post your old family holiday snaps!

Christmas is one of those times when people dig out their old photo scrapbooks and albums and remember the holidays of yesteryear. And we know there is some photographic gold hidden in those albums of yours - photos like the one above, of our own Nicole Penney, apparently quite happy and content in the clutches of this mummer (an early sign of a folklorist-to-be, obviously).

We want to see yours! So we've started up a Facebook group where you can share your family holiday photos, called Vintage Newfoundland Christmas. Post and comment there to your heart's content!

Don't have Facebook, but want to share? Or do you have old photos, but need some help scanning them? Don't be shy! You can email us at and we'll be happy to help.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Are you ready for the 2012 Mummers Festival?

We sure are! This year promises to be the biggest and best Festival to date. We’ve got some exciting new events lined up and our much loved Hobby Horse and Ugly Stick Workshops are set to go!

Expect to see more oversized bras and long underwear than ever before! The Mummers Parade is growing each year, and the energy levels keep rising! There will be a few new surprises along the Parade route this year too!

This year marks the 150th year of the ban on mummering (which was later overturned). On Sunday, December 5th, Folklorist Joy Fraser will be discussing the alleged murder of fisherman Isaac Mercer by a group of men disguised as mummers in Bay Roberts in 1860. It is one of the most notorious episodes in Newfoundland’s history, prompting a legislative ban on mummering that remained in force for over a century. Joy’s lecture, Mummers and Murder, reveals a remarkable collection of archival discoveries that shed new light on the circumstances surrounding Mercer’s death.

Also new this year: Mummer-oke! If you’ve ever felt the slightest bit shy about singing in front of a crowd, fret no more! When you’re in disguise, who cares?! Mummer karaoke at the Georgestown pub will challenge you to sing your favorite tunes in your best mummer voice. It’s gonna be ugly, so bring an ugly stick.

If you don’t know much about mummering come out to our event “How Do You Mummer Anyway” and meet two of the most vivacious mummers out there! Direct from the Southern Shore, these two will give you the lowdown. We’ll ask all the vital questions: Which houses have the best food and drink?; What are the best ways to disguise yourself?; To knock or not to knock?; And how do you go to the bathroom in a disguise like that?

Of course we’ll also be hosting the Province’s largest dress-up party just prior to the Parade. So if you don’t have a disguise, come to the Rig Up an hour before the Parade and sort through the endless supply of ridiculous clothing on hand.

The Parade ends at The Rooms for a hard-stepping mummers dance to some high energy live music. We’ve got some tasty baked goods and enough Purity syrup to make yourself sick! So pace yourself! And, as always, you can strike your best pose at our “Mummeries Forever” Photobooth.

And remember...the Mummers Parade needs YOU!! Yes you! YOU! People love this event because they get to participate! Talk to anyone who’s been in the Parade and they’ll tell you how something funny happens to them...something odd, wondrous, magical. This is the effect of dressing in disguise. You get a bit more freedom to be foolish. We all want that, yes? And bring your friends! Bring your family! It will make your experience all the richer!

There are lots of tips for new mummers and some colourful photos on our website if you need a little guidance and inspiration.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Hobby Horse Revival in Newfoundland and Labrador

The poster above was one designed by Target Marketing for the 2011 Mummers Festival. It bears the caption "Terrifying and delighting children for over 400 years" and the image of a handsome mummer (yours truly) peeking out from inside a great grey horse's head.  This is a hobby horse - and not the child's riding toy hobby horse most North Americans are familiar with. The hobby horse of Newfoundland's mummering tradition is much more fearsome beastie, with big eyes, and a wooden jaw with nails for teeth, which snock together as it nips and bites at the people it meets along its route. It is an archetypal figure associated with chaos, unpredictability, fertility, and, as the poster suggests, even a little terror.

When we started planning the very first mummers festival in 2009, we went looking for hobby horses. Chris Brookes, who started the Mummers Troupe in 1972, had a couple, one of which, "Old Ball" is shown to the right. Local actor Andy Jones had one. One was found tucked away in the MUN Folklore and Language Archive. The Kelly family in Cape Broyle had another, made of styrofoam to replace an older, wooden head.

But other than those few models, very few existed outside of reminiscences.  Andrea O’Brien contributed memories of hobby horses from the Southern Shore, and a man from Bonavista Bay remembered a hobby horse made out of an old cardboard beer carton.

The hobby horse was a Newfoundland Christmas tradition which, not particularly widespread in the twentieth century, had seemed to have faded from both the cultural landscape and popular memory in the twenty-first.  It was a shame, for hobby horses have a long and complicated history

Hobby horses (along with their colourful cousins hobby cows, hobby goats, hobby sheep, and hobby bulls) have been here on the island of Newfoundland for a long time. In 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert wrote in his "Voyages and Enterprises":  

Besides for solace of our people, and allurement of the Savages, we were provided of Musike in good variety: not omitting the least toyes, as Morris dancers, Hobby horsse, and Maylike conceits to delight the Savage people.

"Hobby horse" and "Horsy-hops" both get their own entries in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, and folklorist Dr. Joy Fraser has included references to  hobby horses in her stellar research on mummering and violence in nineteenth century Newfoundland. Fraser includes one account, where a complainant in a legal case describes how “I heard some person running and turned round I was struck on the head with something like a horses head and knocked down I rose on my knees to get hold of the man who struck me and he kicked me on the breast”.

A 1913 Christmas engraving by John Hayward includes, in the background, what can only be a hobby horse (detail below).

Folklore research in the 1960s and 1970s uncovered many stories and references to hobby horses and bulls, but by the time the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador instigated its first Folklife Festival in 2009, very few hobby horses existed, no one had made any for years, and most people had never heard of the tradition.

Mummers Festival coordinator Ryan Davis, working with long-time Lantern Festival organizer Kathleen Parewick, designed a cardboard template to make a hobby horse head, and the hobby horse workshops which were first offered in 2009 have since become a firm part of the annual festival.

The hobby horse workshops have been taught outside of the festival, as part of ICH workshops, community centre outreach programs, and workshops for high school teachers.

Ron Delaney of Bay Roberts has made his own hobby horse from wood, based on his own memories.  In December of 2011, Delaney wrote,

“As a child , growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s I was mortified of Jannies, I use to hear my relatives talk about good and bad Jannies , as a result , in my mind they were all bad, especially the hobby horse. The hobby horse usually was the last Jannie to enter the house; I could remember scooting in the room as fast as I could when I heard the SLAP of its mouth.”

One of the participants in a hobby horse building workshop I taught in Bay Roberts, Delaney brought along Meggie and Kaegan, who now represent a new generation of hobby horse owners. Another horse foaled that day made its way back to Ontario, to take place of honour as Bottom's Head in a Grade 8 student production of Midsummer's Night Dream.

One of the participants in a 2011 Arts Work Conference hobby horse making workshop I taught in St. John's was teacher Amanda Gibson, who teaches at Amos Comenius Memorial School in Hopedale. She made her hobby horse, then went off to Labrador armed with her new skills. Horses not being common along the northern Labrador coast, Gibson adapted the template, adding hobby polar bears to the list of hobby animals now made in the province.

"The kids had a fun time making them and loved choosing the colors for their 'bears'" she wrote me. "It took a few hour-period classes, but it was a great way to end the unit in Grade 8 NL history on 19th Century Lifestyles for students that are hands-on learners."

This year, 2011, there were hobby horses galore at the Mummers Parade. Everywhere you turned, a gaudily-decorated horse's head was poking up above the sea of mummers and janneys, including one devilishly fine, black and red steed, crepe paper fire billowing from its nostrils.

For me, it was a particularly moving sight, and proof that tradition is sometimes more resilient than we give it credit for. For whatever reason, hobby horse making has struck a chord with a new generation of janneys, and I look forward to new additions to the herd in 2012.

And next year, I think the parade needs at least one hobby goat...

Merry Christmas, mummers!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mummers on YouTube - 2011 Mummers Festival Parade

Here are some of the YouTube videos that have been put up from the Mummers Parade this past Saturday. If you know of more, email me at