The origins of Mumming have already been written about by those with too much time and a rather strange inclination. Yet people will believe what suits them, whether this be that the origins are in the 19th century, medieval times or before the dawn of history.
What seems pretty clear is that the plays always were and still are performed at festive times such as Christmas and Easter. These are of course adaptations of existing pagan festivals. The plays act out representations of death and rebirth in the manor of worshipping the land and the seasons; and they are begging plays performed not just for entertainment but reward from the audience.
What is for sure is that Mumming is a worldwide tradition with plays of remarkably similar themes and characters being performed across the continents.
So you can make up the history like the play, to match the susceptibility of the audience, or you can link to www.mastermummers.org for a learned perspective and miss the point entirely but at the same time discover a whole new world of mumming..
Mummers in the UK today fall into two camps: those that dance and those that don’t. Bradshaw Mummers don’t dance, so don’t ask, we are Mummers, the clue is in the name. We, like other mumming sides, appear across the land performing only mumming plays.
Many Morris sides, but judged on current experience not all, do dance; and some also perform plays. Such teams will often (hopefully) perform only one play belonging to a specific village and which has been handed down through the generations. Its performance will usually be limited to a local festival once a year, but occasionally these are taken ‘on the road’. These performances are fine in their village setting where individual failings are fondly regarded; otherwise Morris should stick to dancing – the clue is in the name.