During a research trip to Newfoundland this summer, Folklore Studies faculty member Dr. Joy Fraser was featured on the Living Heritage podcast, hosted by provincial folklorist Dale Jarvis.
They discussed Dr. Fraser's ongoing research into the violence surrounding the folk custom of Christmas mumming in Newfoundland's urban communities in the mid-nineteenth century. There, groups of residents donned disguises and roamed the streets each Christmas in a local variant of this widespread seasonal masking tradition. They attracted a reputation for antisocial behavior and physical aggression that resulted in numerous prosecutions in the local courts from the 1830s onwards.
The discussion focused on the story of Isaac Mercer, a young fisherman who was fatally assaulted by six men disguised as Christmas mummers in the town of Bay Roberts in December 1860. The case prompted the Newfoundland legislature to enact an island-wide ban on the custom of mumming that remained in force for over a century.
Dr. Fraser offered insights into her research process and explained what archival sources reveal about the nature of local mumming practices, the circumstances surrounding Mercer's death, and the subsequent investigation and legal proceedings.
Listen to the podcast here.
August 23, 2017