Sunday, 2 December 2012

Christmas Performers Past and Present

Christmas Performers

Today, those of us who enjoy the Christmas season are spoilt for choice. There are pantomimes, spectaculars on ice, ballet, plays on stage and screen, carol services and t.v. programmes. I take my metaphorical hat off to all the modern day talented amateur and professional performers and to the mummers of old.

In pagan times mummers were street performers, who wore masks to hide their identities. They performed in mid-winter enacting the sun’s death in winter and rebirth in spring. By the Middle Ages mummers performed at Christmas. In my mind’s eye I see excited children squealing in fright at the sight of Beelzebub, welcoming Old Man Winter (Father Christmas) and cheering St George when he killed the dragon or, after the crusades, the Turkish knight.

Sometimes, a play was not the theme of mumming (disguising). Edward III enjoyed mumming games which the participants wore masks of, to name a few, women, angels, dragons and swans. In January 1377, to music played on a variety of instruments, over a hundred Londoners rode to Kennington where Prince Richard was staying with his mother. Upon their arrival the mummers wagered a gold cup which the prince won with loaded dice. After three wagers the mummers distributed gold rings, the feast commenced and the prince and his courtiers joined in a dance with the mummers. Richard was a prince probably aware of his own consequence but I hope he joined in the festivities with childish enthusiasm.