Be a Mummer

Time to be a Mummer
Christmas Eight
New Year’s Day

It is an old colloquialism. “Milking” someone is said to mean to con them out of something. In the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”, day eight is “eight maids a milking”. While it is doubtful that this is what the song means, eight maidens going about conning people out of their possessions or money, it is quite fitting. For it is on this day eight of Christmas tide, this celebration of the New Year, that people participate in what is called the oldest American folk tradition still in existence – being a Mummer!

The Christian calendar has December 21st as the feast of St Thomas and to commemorate it, people went about collecting money for charity. Prior to that, the poor would stand outside the wealthy landowner’s house begging for a bit of starter for their Christmas or plum puddings. The puddings were more a wheat porridge with things added such as fruit or meat suet since most poor people could only obtain the discarded part of the meat. Over time fermenters were added to prolong the shelf life of the pudding and plums were replaced by the more affordable and available raisins.

The first president of the United States of America George Washington supported the tradition of mummers, groups who by this time had evolved into charitable carolers who celebrated the joy of the season of Christmastide and showed love for their fellow man by collecting things given to the less fortunate. Today this tradition continues in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania every New Year’s Day. The Mummer’s Day Parade is not just a time of festivities amid the bleak winter horizon. It is a joining of cultures and traditions.

In Ireland mummers were often seen on St Stephen’s Day or December 26th. Groups of young men had adapted the custom begun by children in going about and singing. Once children had wandered the streets, begging for a cup of hot wassail and perhaps an apple but now groups of young men would stand outside a home a sing until given a “donation”. History records that since their singing was not always harmonious, money was sometimes given just to make them continue on to the next house. These carolers became mummers as Swedish, African, German, and the Anglican customs were all joined together in the new colonies and later the new country on the first day of the new year.

“Here we stand before your door; As we stood the year before; Give us whiskey, give us gin; Open the door and let us in! Or give us something nice and hot; Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!” The modern mummer is from age fifteen to eighty. Instruments never seen in a marching band, like a baritone sax, stringed instruments, or the accordion, are found in a mummer’s parade. Brightly garish costumes are made by groups who consider it a part of their patriotism as well as human benevolence. Like many things, the official Mummer’s Day Parade fell victim to harsh economic times itself but, in true mummer tradition, it also has been saved by the joining of strangers to help out a good cause. The following video is just one of many efforts that successfully kept the mummer’s marching, arranged by actor Kevin Bacon and his brothers and their own band.

When the winter winds are blowing cold, it is a good time to remember that no matter our faith or belief system, it helps us to help others. The goodwill on the streets of Philadelphia, the city known for “brotherly love”, on New Year’s Day is evidence of the hope that exists in the world. It is always a good day to be a mummer – to reach out and help others while reveling in the joy of life. There is no better way to celebrate a new year’s dawn than to be joyful and show love for one’s fellow beings on earth.

Time to Go Forward

Time to Go Forward
New Year’s Eve
Christmas Seven

New Hampshire author and conflict resolution trainer Dr Tammy Lenski is an expert at helping families diffuse holiday stress. But what about the holiday stress that we take into the New Year? At a time when a great many people are celebrating the birth of a prophet who preached universal love, we see people being bullies and harsh in both their judgments and their behavior towards others. Right after another religion has celebrated a miracle of one day’s worth of oil burning for eight days, we hear nothing but despair and negative expectations for the upcoming New Year.

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight, to watch what one eats. However, this can often led to conflict. “The self-control needed to deal with anger and aggression takes energy and our brains get that energy partly from glucose,” Lenski explains. “If we haven’t eaten properly, low blood sugar makes it harder to deal with confrontations and can cause us to lash out.”

Ina world that seems to require us to do more and move faster, the term “multi-tasking” has become synonymous with living. The fact is that we can do a great deal but we can only do some well. No one is everything nor can one person do everything in a short time span. We often set ourselves up for failure. A tip borrowed from the dog-training world, “trigger stacking” is the gradual build-up of anxiety from a series of events. It’s why otherwise mild-mannered dogs unexpectedly bite, Lenski explains.“Research has shown that trying to regulate our thoughts and feelings all day saps our willpower, and eventually we run out of it,” Lenski says. “When that happens, we can snap, too, just like a dog.”

We need to be aware of our environment and how we react to it. Similarly, we need to expect criticism. After all, no one human being is perfect. We all have those things that stress us and knowing what they are can help us prevent them and better react to them when they are unpreventable. “We see ourselves as competent, likable, dependable, having good character, and capable of standing on our own two feet,” Dr. Lenski explains. But when someone suggests we aren’t, we can get ‘hooked’ by conflict. If we have a difficult history with someone, we’re more likely to interpret their comment as a deliberate insult, when the same comment from someone else might not even register on our internal Richter scales,” she says.

Another buzz word of the twenty-first century is “venting”. While it is good to acknowledge one’s feelings, let’s get real. Venting is just another word for complaining but calling it “venting” seems to make it okay. The notion that venting reduces anger is a myth,” says Lenski. “The venting myth persists because we associate feeling less angry and aggressive with actually being less so,” she says. “Research has shown when you just sit quietly for two minutes after an angering event, without thinking about anything in particular thing to think about, anger and aggression levels decline.”

What we need to do is take the beauty and meaning of this season of holidays into the New year without adding any stress to them. Fortunately, none of us exist alone. Whether you have a deep-rooted spirituality or faith or consider yourself simply a member of the family of man, you are a part of a family. None of us walks alone along the path of life. Find a local charity to volunteer. Every city has either a Red Cross chapter, Salvation Army, or locally-sponsored soup kitchen that could use your help. If construction is your forte, offer to help winterize the homes of senior citizens or low income families. If teaching was your career, volunteer at a local college to help adults receive their GED or be a reading tutor at a local elementary school. Humane societies welcome “petters”, those people who simply come and pet the dogs and cats awaiting adoption.

The reason for the season, regardless of what you call your season, is living. Move forward into the New Year with as little stress and as much hope as possible. The family of man needs you and has a place for you!