The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Custom Of Mumming

Source: Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851).

The custom of Mumming, which appears to have prevailed during the middle ages throughout the Christmas season, had its origin in some similar amusement forming a portion of the revels of the ancient Saturnalia. Several of the old chroniclers have left us descriptions of the most celebrated of these entertainments in which our kings and princes have taken part. The earliest account that has been preserved is of a grand mumming performed by the citizens of London, in 1377, for the entertainment of the young prince Richard, son of the Black Prince. On this occasion, one hundred and thirty citizens, disguised as emperors, popes, and cardinals, with knights and their more humble esquires, all wearing vizors and well mounted, and attended by numerous torch-bearers, rode to the palace of the young prince at Kennington, to the sound of trumpets, sackbuts, and other music. Games at dice were played, followed by feasting and dancing, "which jolitie being ended, the mummers were again made to drink, and then departed in order as they came." While the higher classes thus disported themselves, the lower orders were content with a humble imitation of the magnificent pageantry of these entertainments. They went from house to house, with their faces blackened with soot and bedaubed with paint-- the men frequently attired in female costume, and the women in costume of the other sex, when they made merry amongst their friends and neighbours, who provided them with good store of Christmas cheer.

See also:

Mumming and Christmas Mummers from W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore. In Two Volumes. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905 ("Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis").

The Christmas Masque from Washington Irving.

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