Old traditions reinvented for the 21st century – find out about this community art before taking part in the fantastic mummering opportunities this May Day weekend
The tradition of mummering dates back to the Middle Ages with mentions of mummers appearing in medieval manuscript.
In Scotland, these plays were called Galoshins after the main character and there are records of them starting in the 18th century, although there is evidence that they originated even earlier during the 17th century. It was mostly performed in the central belt and borders region with only a few taking place further north. Sir Walter Scott himself participated in mummering traditions as a youth.
The act of mummering was also known as guising and traditionally took place at either Halloween or New Year. A group of actors, usually young males, would travel around from house to house to perform their short play in return for donations of money. In one sense, the tradition of guising lives on as many children still dress up and go “guising” at Halloween, although a performance for their sweeties is replaced by teh easier yell of “Trick or Treat!”
The actual tradition of performing a play died out in the early 20th century but many records survive in archives and oral recollections from people who were performers in their youth. In recent years there has been a strong movement in Scotland to revive the tradition with groups such as the Prestonpans Mummers, who revived the tradition and have adapted it to represent their local community. Similar movements can also be seen in other countries such as The Armagh Rhymers in Ireland who were able to share their skills at our previous two TradFest Festivals.
Is the revival politically motivated or is it simply another attempt to connect with our past and hold on to our heritage? There has been a strong movement in reviving Gaelic traditions and so this could be seen as the Lowlands attempt at reviving their own heritage. Is the interest in reviving traditional Scottish activities due to the recent political events in Scotland, or is it simply that there is now more interest in reigniting ancestral traditions for the enriching of Scotland’s cultural landscape?
One key figure in the revival movement is Stan Reeves, who will be leading a FREE workshop along with the Scottish Mummers Network on Friday 1 May at 1.30pm at the Scottish Storytelling Centre for all those interested in learning more about May Day plays, Robin Hood Games, Galoshins and all the magical mayhem of the season. Bring hats, banners, flags, and costumes ready to adapt for the May Day processions.
Then join us on Saturday morning at The Pavillion Café, Jawbone Walk from 10.30am for Garland and costume making ahead of the May Day Parade led by The Stockbridge Pipe Band, where you can engage in the merriment – and it’s all FREE too!