1st Day of Christmas

Mummering is a Newfoundland tradition.

Cops And Mummers
(A True Christmas Story)
by Annabel Sheila

Christmas traditions can be varied depending upon where you live of course. On the west coast of Newfoundland, traditions are pretty much the same as anywhere else, with one minor exception. There’s this thing called “Mummering” that up until the time I was 10 years old, I’d never even heard of. My Irish mother was from a small village on the east coast of Newfoundland where she grew up with this strange tradition. But I remember a Christmas when it seemed mummering had begun transitioning to the west coast of the island too.

Mummering consisted of adults dressing in costumes on Christmas night, disguising themselves as best they could, going from door to door visiting both friends and strangers. When they were received at each house, they’d enjoy a drink of Christmas cheer, play a few tunes, perhaps dance a few jigs, and have the people who lived there try and guess who they were. I’m sure it was great fun for the adults! However to a child who’d only ever seen people dressed in costumes at Halloween, and then it was mostly children, an encounter with adults completely disguised at Christmastime was an experience she’d never forget!

That year our family of nine had shared the usual warm family traditions, from finding that perfect Christmas tree, to mother’s annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas”, to finally waking up on Christmas morning and discovering Santa had once again surprised us with presents we didn’t ask for. Although we didn’t usually get the things we wished for, there were seven of us children and our father was a hard working self-employed man, so we were happy with whatever we got. After all there were millions of children in the world so how could every child possibly get everything they asked for anyway? Mother always helped us with our letters to Santa, emphasising that fact, in effect shortening our lists dramatically.

Mom and Dad always spent Christmas Eve, and Christmas day with us children, right up until after supper in the evening on Christmas day. Then they took some time for themselves, visiting their friends (who also had seven children) to play cards and perhaps enjoy a few seasonal spirits. My oldest sister, who would have been 16 at the time, usually remained at home to babysit.

But that year, my sister wanted to visit her friends, so Mom and Dad left my other sister, who was two years older than me, in command! We spent the evening playing with our games and things from Santa, but around 9:30  my sister tried to make us go to bed.  The younger ones listened to her and went off to their beds, but my brother and me decided to defy her and stay up. After all, she wasn’t that much older than me so why should she get to stay up?

It was around 10 o’clock when we heard a car door slam outside our house. Now we lived almost on the outskirts of town, so there was very little traffic on that dirt road, especially in wintertime. As it was much too late for Christmas visitors, I stood in big the living room window, wiping frost off the pane, straining to see through the lightly falling snow who could be in our yard at that time of night.

It wasn’t until the two very tall people reached the stairs leading up to our front door that I was finally able to clearly see who was coming. Fear sent shivers down my spine as screaming I jumped back from the window. In a barely audible voice that trembled, I said, “There’s a mummy and a zombie coming up the steps.”

Laughing, my sister pushed past me to look out the window. Her face turning completely ashen, she screamed, running from the window as fast as her feet could carry her, hiding under the bed in the bedroom we shared. So much for her being in charge of things! Meanwhile, my little brother ran in to the kitchen, grabbed the breadknife off the sideboard and hid behind a big chair in the living room.

Thump, thump, clump, the footsteps drew ever nearer the narrow enclosed veranda at the top of the steps, while I stood there alone, frozen with fear, unable to run. The telephone was on a little table right next to the front door, the telephone directory beneath it. Grabbing the phone and directory, I did the only thing I could do. Hiding next to my brother behind the chair, I looked up the number to the RCMP station in town.

By this time the monsters had reached the door and were knocking, turning the knob back and forth. I knew at any moment they were going to get in and we‘d all be dead! The phone at the police station only rang once. “Sir there are two very big scary creatures at our door, and they’re trying to get in and kill us.”

The officer on duty was a good friend and hunting buddy of my father, and when he identified himself and asked for my name, intense relief washed over me at his familiar voice. “Are your mother and father home?” he asked.

“No, they’re playing cards at Mr. & Mrs. White’s house,” I said, my throat constricted with complete terror.

“Listen to me now. Don’t open the door,” he said. “Stay where you are and we’ll be right there.” When I hung up the phone I said every prayer I’d learned since I could talk, begging God not to let those horrible creatures get inside.

After what seemed like an eternity of knocking and shuffling outside the door, we finally heard the sirens and saw the blue and red flashing lights on the living room ceiling. That was when the uninvited guests started slowly back down the stairs. The police would nab them now!

I’d never felt so happy in my entire 10 years! We were safe and the monsters were going to jail. For a split second I imagined the ghouls overtaking the policemen and then coming back for us because we called the cops in the first place. But sneaking over to the window, my sister having joined me from under the bed, we watched the two RCMP officers talking to the strangers.

And then the strangers removed their masks and we stared open-mouthed at two very good friends of my parents.  It seemed my parents had forgotten the two had promised to drop by for a visit that evening, wanting to surprise my mother with a little touch of her east coat tradition!

Needless to say, I didn’t get into any trouble for calling the cops on the mummers that night, but that was the last time the mummers came to our house at Christmastime!

Annabel Sheila is a poet and writer living with with her husband in Moncton, NB. She currently sits on the Editorial Board of Bread ‘n Molasses magazine and is a frequent contributor to the print edition.