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Mummering is a quirky holiday tradition on the Canadian island of Newfoundland

Years ago, people would go door to door in disguise and party with their neighbors

CNN  — 

Every December in St. John’s, Newfoundland, people parade the streets wearing creepy masks, fake horse heads and their underwear on the outside.

The spectacle is all part of the Mummers Festival, which celebrates a once-banned, centuries-old tradition in the province called mummering.

Mummering originated in England and Ireland, and the earliest record of it in Newfoundland dates to 1819, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage project. During Christmas season, people would disguise their identities using a mishmash of household items and travel door to door to neighbors’ homes. Neighbors would invite them in for impromptu parties with food and drinks, all while attempting to identify the masked visitors. Once an identity was determined, the mask came off.

In an effort to preserve this quirky part of Newfoundland’s culture, the first-ever Mummers Festival was born in 2009 and is now going into its eighth year. The annual festival consists of numerous community events and culminates in the Mummers Parade.

Canadian photographer Darren Calabrese documents this cultural revival in his photo series “Mummers.” His images show Newfoundlanders dressed in their best disguises. One woman wears a lampshade on her head and covers her face with a doily. One man, covered in ribbons, plays the part of the “ribbon fool,” a prankster in traditional mummering.

Photographer Darren Calabrese

“The province has put their stamp on it,” Calabrese said. “It’s a celebration of the good, authentic parts of mummering.”

The reputation of mummering in Newfoundland has had a troubled past. The 1830s saw the first case of violence linked to mummering. In the following decades, excessive drinking and religious and political tensions began to fuel more mummering-relat