New Year’s Day Mummer’s Parade
New Year’s Day has always been marked by special celebrations and traditions. One of the most ancient ways of welcoming in the New Year was the Mummer’s Dance.
Mummers on Parade
Here in this picture a group of costumed Mummers parade down a street of Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, 1909. Throngs of people including many children have lined the streets to watch the mummers.
Traditional mummery (also called janneying) was a British in which people would dress in masks and disguises and visit the homes of neighbors incognito. They would be welcomed by the householders and there perform tricks, pantomimes, and songs. The hosts would attempt to guess the identity of their guests. Mummer’s costumes were often very elaborate, and sometimes scary looking.
Despite roots that may have gone back to Druid times, the practice nearly died out after 1861 when a law was passed making it illegal to wear a disguise in public, after a man was robbed and killed by assailants dressed as mummers. However vestiges of this practice survived in the England, Ireland, and parts of the United States and Canada.
Here are some close ups of the masks worn by these parading mummers.
The mummer in the center of the picture above appears to be carrying two fake mummers attached to a beam supported by his shoulders.
Another Closeup of Mummers
Above is a closeup of the mummers following the lead mummer with his scarecrow mummers hung over his shoulders. Note their elaborate head dresses.
Watching the Mummer’s Parade
Here is a moment in time from New Year’s Day 1909, an America that no longer exists. Note the Sunday Best clothes worn by the girls as they attentively watch the spectacle in front of them.
The man’s face shows signs of having been severely cut up in a duel. Duels were very much in vogue in Germany prior to World War 1. Members of the aristocracy would fight duels with swords or pistols over affairs of honor, and thousands died over trivial slights.
In addition to such honor duels, male University students belonging to the upper classes, often belonged to fraternities whose main purpose was to challenge the members of rival fraternities to sword duels. These so-called academic duels were not fought to the death, though death might result accidentally, but they were not at all genteel affairs.
The duelists wore only partial face masks which covered only their eyes and nose (to prevent blinding or disfigurement through the loss of one’s nose) but which also left the rest of the face intentionally unprotected so that rapier strokes often sliced the opponent’s face. This lack of protection guaranteed a level of risk which was seen as an essential proving ground for the duelers, and also ensured that they would receive facial scars which were seen as a mark of honor and distinction. Far from avoiding receiving scars in duels, German elites wore their facial scars as a badge of honor.
It looks like the man in this picture, likely taken around 1910, has earned quite a few distinguishing scars.
The practice of dueling to the death went out of favor following the carnage of World War 1. However academic dueling for sport remained in vogue even after world war 1, and many German officers during the Second World War continued to sport dueling scars.