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Here are some similarities, differences, and other information regarding the idea of the origin of Mumming






400 B.C.

To celebrate the feast of Saturnalia

England and Germany

16th and 17th Centuries

To celebrate the Christmas Mosque

Scotland, Wales, Ireland

17th - Present

Folk dramas that evolved


Early 19th cen. Present

Medieval European customs



The Roman laborers used mumming to observe a festival in honor of their god, Saturn, and the gathering of crops.  The festival began December 17th, and it was generally the norm to visit friends and exchange gifts.  It was a day of equality and joy.  Slaves donned costumes and enjoyed the festivities with their masters.  Music was heavily involved.

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England and Germany used mumming practices to celebrate their Christmas Mosque.  It consisted of popular dramatic traditions that integrated an allegorical theme, pageantry, dancing, and music.  Also, these festivals had a tendency to become very boisterous and lively.  In German, the word mummer means mask, thus explaining why the costumes grew to be such a large part of the tradition.

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The accepted idea in these areas (England too) is that mumming plays are really folk dramas that are set around the legends of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom.  This would support the idea mention in the History of Mumming.  Mumming shows began as miming performances and eventually grew to become more.  This is where the term mummers derives from because the Middle English word mum means silent.  Words were finally added, but the original stories were often partially lost through translation and retellings of the story.  It is also believed that these plays were performed around the end of the year and during the harvesting season because it was intended to be a celebration of the death of the year and its coming again in Spring.

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The mumming customs in Philadelphia came from nothing more than old European customs that were altered to fit the desires of the new settlers and immigrants.  They picked from many different cultures and, in combining them, found that the easiest (and most fun) thing to do was turn the plays and performances themselves into one large parade.  More information can be found on the Philadelphia page.


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Back to History of Mumming


Early Mumming



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