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MUMMERS AND MASKS is a one hour Documentary Christmas Special that explores the ancient, wild, wonderful, pagan Christmas of mummers.  A fascinating tradition that still survives in the old world and the new.  The Christmas behind the Christmas we know.

The story of mummers is the story of masks.  The cult of disguise.  There are some who argue that the custom dates back to Roman Saturnalia, others believe it goes all the way back to the cave!  Certainly, the concealment of one's indentity behind a mask speaks to the wildest and most ancient blood in our being.  Mummering has survived in Newfoundland for five centuries.  In 1861, mummering was officially banned.  Yet even now in the smaller outport communities, nobody worries about a bit of mud on the carpet, and men still disguise themselves as women and women disguise themselves as men, and tramp from house to house, dancing and drinking and acting the fool.  In St. John's,  mummers gate-crash house parties and perform a revival of an ancient mummers play.  With swordfights and much mayhem, it was common right across Newfoundland up until mummering was outlawed.



MUMMERS AND MASKS traces the root of these ancient mid-winter customs, that came over to the New World with the first settlers, back to their source.  In County Fermanagh, Ulster, mummers perform an ancient community drama with striking similarities to the Newfoundland revival.  The Ulster mummers conceal themselves from head-to-toe in woven straw.  In the 1970's, the practice of mummers roaming the country and invading houses wearing masks, virtually disappeared as sectarian violence took root.  Today, however, the Christmas mummers are seen as helping to heal the sectarian strife which has torn apart communities.  In Dingle, in southern Ireland, the mummers are known as wren boys, and once upon a time cavorted around with a dead wren tied to a holly branch.  The root of mumming is all about fertility and assisting the re-birth of the sun.  In Minehead, England, the local hobby horse (a close relative to the hobby horse that came over with Sir Humphrey Gilbert when he planted the British flag in St. John's in 1583) not only assists with the fertility of the land, it is also called upon to assist with the fertility of humans.  We are talking sex!  

Filmed in a lively verite style, incorporating rare archival footage, MUMMERS AND MASKS revels in all the raucous fun and music to be found in Newfoundland, in Ireland and England over the 12 days of Christmas, and also in Philadelphia, where our cameras filmed 10,000 mummers parading through the streets on New Year's Day, in a garish, gaudy, Superbowl-style Mummers extravaganza.  Tracing the very DNA of human community entertainment at Christmastime; our guides are the colourful practitioners themselves: the storytellers, musicians and mummers behind the masks.


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