The word 'mumming' causes confusion, as it can refer to a number of relatively distinct customs, and many *visiting custom have borne the name, but by far the most widespread is the *mumming play (see below). In late medieval times, it was the fashion amongst the nobility to stage elaborate 'mummings' which involved dressing up or disguising, such as wearing dragon, peacock, and swan heads, or dressing as angels. Other reports show that it was not only at court that people liked to disguise themselves at *Christmas, and there were several occasions when attempts were made to ban mummings and disguisings to prevent masked young men roaming the streets getting up to mischief. A *New Year custom, apparently confined to the Yorkshire area, involved parties of disguised people entering people's houses on New Year's Eve, without knocking as the doors had generally been left unlocked. The residents had to guess their identity, and once they did so offered food and drink to the visitors before they moved on to another house. The custom was almost exactly the same as that which is still going strong (also called mumming or mummering) in Newfoundland. 'At Wakefield and Stanby (Yorkshire) the mummers enter a house, and if it be in a foul state they proceed to sweep the hearth, and clean the kitchen range, humming all the time "Mum-m-m"' (Henderson, 1866: 54). In Barton, Cambridgeshire, up to about 1914, boys with blackened faces, calling themselves 'mummers', paraded the village singing a verse which has echoes from the mumming play (Porter, 1974: 72); and, in addition, some Christmas Eve carol-singers in the West Riding of Yorkshire were also called mummers, as were those who carried the *wassail cup around in the Cleveland area.
   ■ Eric Sunderland, 'The New Year Mummers', Dalesman (Jan. 1995), 61; Wright and Lones, 1940: iii. 224; Hutton, 1996: 11-12.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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