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Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

December 20, 2012

We’re feeling particularly festive here at the Mill today after researching the history of Nether Alderley Village and the tradition of the Mummers.

The Mummers are traditional sketches performed at Christmas or New Year by a troupe of actors called mummers. Characters in the play are: an Enterer-in; St. George; Black Prince; Col. Slasher; Beelzebub; The Doctor; The Groom and The Horse. The key character is the comical doctor who was needed to revive the loser of a sword fight between a hero and an adversary. The heroes would vary regionally, for example in the Cotswolds it was Robin Hood rather than St. George.

The Mummers in Action

The Mummers in Action

In Nether Alderley the Mummers were performed by the Barber family at the annual Christmas party hosted by Lord Stanley held at Alderley Park. The play dates back to at least the Elizabethan period when a performance of the Mummers followed by Morris dancing was an important part of the celebrations for the Twelve Days of Christmas, organised by a member of the community acting as the ‘Lord of Misrule’. Other Elizabethan traditions included burning a Yule log from Christmas Eve for the whole Twelve Days of Christmas. The Yule log is something we are still familiar with today although perhaps more in the chocolate cake variety!

Christmas Banquet at Little Moreton Hall. Copyright National Trust

Christmas Banquet at Little Moreton Hall. Copyright National Trust

Christmas dinner was a luxurious feast for the rich with a goose, turkey or a dish called ‘brawn with mustard’ made from force fed boar meat. To accompany the meat there would be Christmas pudding, sweet mincemeat, tarts, syllabub and the new vegetable of the period – the Brussels sprout. For those who could afford it there would also be a banqueting course of sweet and colourful delicacies to visually delight guests. Almond paste and sugar paste would be moulded to make all sorts of things such as eggs, walnuts and ‘collops’ (rashers) of bacon! This would be washed down with mulled wine and ‘lambswool’ – a drink made from mixing hot cider, sherry, apples and spices heated until it exploded and formed a white ‘wooly’ head.

It really was the season to eat, drink and be merry! 

We extend these warm wishes to you and hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

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