Every Christmas Revels includes a mummers’ play, a farcical death and resurrection play that harks back to a very old seasonal ritual.
Mumming springs from an impulse to celebrate – indeed, to act out the transition from death to life in the middle of the winter. There are mumming traditions associated with other seasonal changes, namely spring and autumn, but the most prominent mumming traditions are connected with the winter solstice.
Mumming’s oldest purpose is to ensure that the cycle of the seasons continues to occur. Mumming may take the form of a sword dance or a drama. Some mummers plays are rigidly staged in a semi-circle of fairly two-dimensional stock figures, while others are presented in a more slapstick, even topical form. They may be historical or modern in character. Since medieval times, mumming has been a favorite entertainment at festive gatherings.
In most instances of mummers plays, combat occurs, someone dies, and someone (usually a doctor) happens along and revives the victim with a “magic” bottle of inkum-pinkum. The tone is crude but the purpose is clearly stated: to assert that as spring follows winter, life will return. As Saint George has sung at his revival so often in the Christmas Revels:
Good morning, gentlemen, a sleeping I have been.
And I’ve had such a sleep as the like was never seen.
But now I am awake, alive unto this day.
The dancers shall have their dance and the doctor take his pay.
This short video, made by the Arts Office of Fingal County Council, shows the Fingal Mummers of North Dublin rehearsing the ‘Mummers Play’ outside the Seamus Ennis Centre in the village of Naul, Fingal.
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