About the Mummers Festival
The Mummers Festival is a not–for–profit, community–based folklife festival that encourages the celebration and free expression of tradition. Throughout December the Mummers Festival hosts a series of events and workshops leading up to our crowning event, the Mummers Parade. But unlike other spectator events, this Festival welcomes the public as participants and not just observers.
The primary goal of the Mummers Festival is to promote the continuance and evolution of traditional arts and performance by encouraging active participation in mummering activities. All events are designed to equip the public with skills and knowledge about mummering so that they can better participate in our parade day events and, it is hoped, the house-visiting traditions that occur during the twelve days of Christmas.
The Mummers Festival began as a joint initiative with the Intangible Cultural Heritage division of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and Memorial University’s Department of Folklore. The research-based initiative began in 2009 and included 16 free community events. The Festival was guided by principles of cultural conservation and influenced by Folklife Festival models, known for their ethnographic approach to planning and for their populist-based perspective on cultural democracy. In 2010 the Festival was organized by a group of enthusiastic volunteers and supporters and in 2011 the Mummers Festival incorporated as a non-profit entity.
What has been observed about past Mummers Festivals is the incredible sense of pride felt by participants as they breathe new life into a tradition that seems to be “dying out.” Rather than lament the loss of tradition, the Mummers Festival is a call to action that functions as an incubator for artistic expression and cultural reproduction. While the context is new, it is hoped that the Festival ignites a renewed interest in its traditional, house-visiting origins. The Mummers Festival helps to keep mummering alive and contemporary and adds to the population’s pride of place.
Participation is the benchmark of the Mummers Festival. The Festival empowers people to take ownership of local arts and performance traditions and encourages cultural expression with extensive creative freedom. Further, the Mummers Festival recognizes that for traditional arts to continue they must be adaptable to change. The freedom to make the old into something new is how traditions continue and flourish. The Mummers Festival takes an integrated approach that legitimizes the contemporary uses of tradition by giving a diverse public the opportunity to explore mummering as a relevant artistic tool in the multivocal expression of regional and personal identity. The Parade becomes a communal staging ground for the transmission and reinvention of traditions within a diverse urban setting and amongst experienced mummers and initiates alike.
Read more about the Mummers Festival in The Newfoundland Quarterly
2015 — Event of the Year (City of St. John’s)
2012 — Excellence in Community Development (Historic Sites Assoc.)
2011 — Cultural Tourism Award (Hospitality Newfoundland & Labrador)
What is a Folklife Festival?
Described as an exposition of intangible cultural heritage, a folklife festival is just one way to help encourage the celebration of traditions and recognize tradition-bearers. A folklife festival strives to provide the opportunity for people of varying backgrounds to come together and explore the many aspects of particular traditions. A folklife festival attempts to achieve the goals of cultural understanding and cultural transmission, as encouraged by UNESCO’s policies on intangible cultural heritage (ICH)
Since 1967 the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington has been producing an annual folklife festival and has served as a model of a research-based exposition of intangible cultural heritage. They describe their folklife festival as “an exercise in cultural democracy, in which cultural practitioners speak for themselves, with each other, and to the public.” The Mummers Festival is an attempt to model the Smithsonian’s methodology and approach but with due attention to the differences in context.
At the heart of a folklife festival is the aspiration to represent collective cultural knowledge in a grassroots way. This approach encourages the free and informed participation of community members and tradition-bearers who, it is hoped, will play a central role in the shape of the festival’s development and overall outcome. It is based on principles of organization in which matters and decisions are best managed by the smallest, lowest or least centralized authority.
When we talk about grassroots in the folklife festival context, we mean that agendas are driven and informed by a range of individuals who are closely connected to their respective traditions and/or the communities involved. The decisions made while planning the festival should ideally reflect the views of many individuals within a community who are intimately connected with the traditions on display. This process has been described as natural, spontaneous, and “from the ground up.”
The folklife festival approach to issues of representation are based largely in theories of cultural conservation, a perspective described by Mary Hufford as “grounded in subjective assumptions about how nature and society fit together.”1 This perspective views habitat and culture as an indivisible whole, acknowledging that traditions are intimately tied to the people who use them and the conditions for their use. This ecological approach places value on culture as pluralistic, dynamic, adaptable, and mobile. This perspective thus challenges who controls culture, questions for whom culture is mediated, and reflects an interest in how culture can be used to combat forms of essentialized identity.
A folklife festival aims to ensure traditions are renewed and kept alive. Preserving and safeguarding culture does not suggest the protection of traditions from outside forces, but rather, supports the conditions necessary for cultural reproduction. In line with cultural conservation, ICH policies encourage the sustainability of traditions by taking a natural heritage as living systems approach that seeks to sustain the whole system as a living, dynamic entity.