Monday, 3 January 2011

A very traditional English Christmas?

Whilst we were down on the Isle of Wight for Christmas with Ower Dave and his family we all went a bit traditional. One of my nieces, Megan, was in a Mummers Play on Boxing Day so the remaining 8 of us drove half way across the island to Arreton Barns to watch -yes, I know it's not that far to anywhere on the Isle of Wight but have you tried organising us lot?!

Anyway, Mummers Plays are Christmas folk plays that have survived since the early 18th century - although the term 'mummers' has been in use since medieval times. The word 'mummer' is variously believed to derive from Middle English 'mum' (silent) or Greek 'mommo' (mask) or Early New High German 'mummer' (disguised person), but wherever the word originates from, Mummers Plays still happen all over the British Isles in fairly similar forms and all seem to revolve around a quack doctor with a magic potion that can restore life.

Typically the plays take place in a pub!
As well as the Doctor, each play contains a Hero - King George *hurrah*, a Villain - the Turkish Knight *booo*, Old Father Christmas, Mother Christmas, a Noble Captain and various others who I can't remember despite having seen the same play about 5 times now! The plays are broadly comic (this one was hilarious and included King George having his script taped to the inside of his shield!) and apparently represent the battle between good and evil. The onlookers are expected to cheer, boo and hiss as appropriate, whilst the actors have licence to forget lines, ad-lib at will and thoroughly enjoy themselves! Best ad-lib this time? ......."stay there, you're still dead"!
Each character introduces him or herself in rhyming couplets and battle swiftly commences, resulting in the seriously overacted 'death' of one or the other character, thus allowing the good Doctor to rush to the rescue with her magic bottle of potion to restore the victim back to life *Hurraaah!* The play finishes with a song from the whole cast before a hat is passed round to raise money for charity. Excellent fun!
(that's my niece as the Doctor)

After the excitment of the Mummers Play we went out into the cold to see some Morris dancing - once the, erm, 'band' set up!

First came the ladies - a bit twee and insipid for my liking I'm afraid... all boughs, bells and garlands. I'm sure it's very clever, just wasn't for me!
Then the clog dancers, who were quite impressive in their speed, the loudness of the clogging on the boards

and the complexity of their steps. I'd always thought clog dancing was a Northern thing, so I was quite surprised to see them 'down south' - they were good though, for southern jessies!

Then the bands changed and Santa came to play his violin - a man of many talents is Santa!
as the first Morris Men came out - a bit more roughty-toughty than the ladies, but still with tinkley bells on their legs! They managed to remain looking quite serious as they danced, despite looking a bit daft!


The next set of Morris dancers were a young mixed male/female group. They have eschewed traditional Morris dress for anything as long as it's red or black - resulting in a slightly piratical look. Their music remains traditional, but was played slightly faster. The woman in the left of the photo called the moves for the dancers, who appeared to be having much more fun than the previous ones!
They also put much more 'ooomph' into the wacking together of the sticks.......(good use of technical terms there Nutty!)

...much more vigour into their faster dancing and lots of shouting and grunting as they whipped around each other - but then they were all a good 20 years younger than the other Morris men!

Having lost all feeling in our fingers and toes by that point, we denied ourselves the pleasure of seeing the other Morris groups perform and we headed home - although some of us would have prefered to go back into the pub for a pint by the roaring log fire first.....or maybe that was just me!
Keeping the traditional theme going, the following day 14 of us aged from 4 to 79 went to the pantomime, along with about 300 others - "oh no you didn't!" ...."oh yes we did"!!
Shanklin Theatre was doing a production of Aladdin. It had all the prerequisits of a panto - a man in the female lead role with a totally over the top set of costumes, a villain who was thoroughly enjoying his role, a sweet Princess, a handsome Prince/Aladdin (unusually, this was a actually a young man.It's usually a young woman)lots of 'bad' jokes, old jokes, wobbly scenery, cute little children dancing, cast ad-libs that reduced other cast members to quivering laughter jellies, forgotten lines, lots of audience participation with booing, shouting...."he's behind you", "he's nicked the lamp" etc, plenty of communal lobbing of dry sponges onto the stage to get the baddie, a cast-led singing competition between the two sides of the audience (- we won!) and, of course, the Happy Ending! I love a good panto! :D
It was all great fun and a great way to end our family Christmas holiday!

23 comments:

Liz said...

Hi Liz,

A mummer?? Nay 'erd of it love, I 'ave 'oweva sin tha morris dancers in Sheff before.
(ok, end of attempting to type in Yorkshire)

There's a celebration at some point in the year (think it's around May some time) and they all parade through the city centre with two huge statues - a man and a woman - and they have the twee women in flowery clothes, bells and such but then there are also the more gothic looking ones.

Much fun and perhaps I ought not to admit morris dancing when I was younger! :D

I hope you're enjoying being back at work after all the festivities...

yummy-glutton said...

What a great Christmas! Thank you again for educating me (no sarcasm! honestly) - very interesting story and cultural/historic facts.

I forgot to tell you the other day how impressed our Russian friends were with my pulling a proper Christmas Day together for them (with the presents, turkey dinner, Christmas pudding etc.) - I thanked your wonderful family for that. The 3 days at Andy's parents 9 (OMG!) years ago was a crash course on Traditional Christmas for us :)

Pondside said...

What a lot of fun that must have been. We have Morris Dancers here and they show up at anything vaguely agricultural - like yours, they look very serious as they dance and I couldn't help but think they'd look a lot better with smiles!

Woody Wilbury said...

That looks like a lot of fun, especially the roughty-toughty Morris dancers!!

Britta said...

Dear Liz,
that sounds like an absolute gorgeous English Christmas! The mummers and the morris dancers and the pantomime - wonderful! The days before Christmas I always lie a book on the coffee table, "Country Christmas", ed. by Francine Lawrence, and then I dream of "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly", "Festive Feasts" and "The Spirit of Christmas" - 'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY' - and I think you really made it!

Nutty Gnome said...

Ey up Liz. Ne'er 'erd o' mummers? Wot's t'world cummin to eh?!
I did enjoy the Morris dancers, but small doses are best!

It was quite nice to be back at work, but it was nice to have a short week as not all the schools wanted us back in this week!Back to normal next week though :)

Hi Olga - gosh, is it really 9 years?!!! I'd have said maybe 5?! Well done on doing a 'proper' Christmas for your Russian friends too - nice to know we've been a positive influence :D xx

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Pondside - yep, Morris dancers pop up everywhere, but at least the ones in red and black were obviously having fun! I couldn't quite work out why the others were doing it given that they looked so glum!

Ey up Woody - 'tis 'ard to be roughty-toughty wi' bells on yer legs! :)

Hi Britta - thanks you! It was lovely I have to admit - and that book sounds delightful! I hope you had a lovely Christmas too, even if it was very different to ours :)

Kylee said...

Thank you for sharing this! You know, one of my favorite songs is "Mummer's Dance" and I always wondered, "What's a mummer?"

You are a story teller extraordinaire. I loved reading every word of this!

Nutty Gnome said...

Awh, thanks Kylee *blushes madly*.
I've really got into writing the blog, even though it has often veered away from my original intention to write about the building of the tea house and japenese garden! But then that's me - a bit of a grasshopper mind!

I think you've love to see the Mummers Play - maybe next time I should video it and post that up! It's really funny! :)

joey said...

I so love to visit, dear Liz ... you lead such a colorful life and write so jolly and beautifully descriptive! Believe me, if I was with you I would have joyfully joined you by the roaring fire for a pint!

Kathryn said...

How deliciously wonderful, Liz! I'm grinning just at the telling. I wonder if I will ever find myself in the UK at Christmastime??? Thank you for the rich sharing!

Nutty Gnome said...

Joey, if you ever make it to England I've got so many places to take you and things to do and share with you that you'd better come for a month!!!

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Kathryn - I do so enjoy sharing some of our more English traditions on here - they're such fun! If ever you fancy Christmas in England, our door is always open :)

Carolynn said...

The Mummer's Play sounds like great fun! Some ad libbed lines can be outrageously hilarious. Sounds like you had a wonderful holiday. Your garden looks very pretty in the snow, btw.

Nutty Gnome said...

It was a great holiday Carolynn. It's always fun when we're all together, but especially when we went to see the Mummer's Play and the Morris Dancers - we laughed until our sides ached!

I want more snow!!!

Tootsie said...

that looks like a great christmas!!! I am glad you shared!!!

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Tootsie - Christmas was a hoot! Going to Arreton Barns to see all this lot was great fun, we all really enjoyed the day. I'm glad you enjoyed it too :)

Shady Gardener said...

Thank you, Liz! You would make a wonderful tour-guide! :-) I can imagine the fun you and your family must have had as the audience and how much fun everyone else had performing!

Nutty Gnome said...

Ha ha - thanks Shady. I can imagine you at a panto with us, getting into all the shouting and booing ...you'd love it too! :)

Ali said...

Oh I am in love with your header photo, what lovely snow, you lucky thing. I keep saying that I love living in a warm climate, but oh the snow looks so fabulous!

Shady Gardener said...

I would love it! :-)

Nutty Gnome said...

Hi Ali - I'm glad you like the header, I'm quite proud of it ....I was standing in about a foot of snow on the trampoline when I took it!
Sadly just about all the snow has gone now :(
I love how different our seasons are!

Nutty Gnome said...

Shady, if you ever visit England come and visit us ...I'll find us a panto to go to! :D