"Our Brommtopp Is of Our Own Design": (De)constructing Masculinities in Southern Manitoba Mennonite Mumming

By Fehr, Marcie; Greenhill, Pauline | Ethnologies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

"Our Brommtopp Is of Our Own Design": (De)constructing Masculinities in Southern Manitoba Mennonite Mumming


Fehr, Marcie, Greenhill, Pauline, Ethnologies


In the past and to some extent the present, various Euro North American and other cultural groups marked the period from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night with rowdy, disguised, playful/ludic or carnivalesque behaviour that mainstream Euro North Americans associate more with Halloween than with this holiday season. Many such customs, termed the "informal house visit" involve a group (usually young men) who perambulate from one location to another within a community. They include performative aspects-often dancing and singing-as well as the expectation of a reward--usually food and/or drink--and some sociability with the visited household members. A seasonal custom performed by young men, almost always on New Year's Eve, in rural Manitoba Mennonite villages where the church tolerated it, Brommtopp is named after the musical instrument used during the performance. Traditionally a group of some dozen teenaged boys and young married men would drive and/or walk from house to house within their own village and sometimes beyond. At each residence, the group would sing the traditional song which generally asked for money in return for good wishes. We examine the sociohistorical surround of the practice and its past and current racialised and postcolonial implications.

Dans les temps anciens, et encore aujourd'hui, plusieurs groupes culturels, dont les Euro-Nord-Americains, ont marque la periode comprise entre la veille de Noel et le jour des Rois par des deguisements, des comportements turbulents, enjoues, ludiques ou carnavalesques. Les Nord-Americains ont tendance a associer ces festivites a l'Halloween plutot qu'a la periode des Fetes. Beaucoup de ces coutumes presentent un groupe (habituellement, des jeunes gens) qui se promene d'une place a l'autre a l'interieur d'une communaute. L'evenement inclut des aspects de performance--souvent une danse et des chants--ainsi que l'attente d'une recompense--en general de la nourriture ou de la boisson--et un accueil agreable de la part des membres de la famille visitee. Le Brommtopp, une coutume saisonniere observee par de jeunes hommes presque toujours a la veille du Nouvel An, dans les villages mennonites recules du Manitoba ou elle etait toleree par l'Eglise, prend le nom de l'instrument de musique employe pendant la performance. Selon la tradition, un groupe d'environ une douzaine d'adolescents et de jeunes maris allait en voiture ou a pied de maison en maison dans son propre village et parfois dans d'autres. A chaque residence, le groupe entonnait le chant traditionnel et demandait, souvent, de l'argent en echange de bons souhaits. L'ouvrage examine le contexte sociohistorique de cette pratique ainsi que ses repercussions passees et presentes.

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For most adult Euro North Americans, the season from Christmas to New Year's has some (often vestigial) religious significance, but is characterised primarily by formal ritual obligations of feasting, gift giving and receiving, and visiting (see e.g. Bella 1992, Caplow 1982, Caplow 1984, Cheal 1988). (1) Periodic moments of play, like the office party, may break up the structure, but for the most part drinking (sometimes to excess) offers the only relief from the often socially and financially expensive obligations. Yet in the past and to some extent the present, various Euro North American and other cultural groups have marked the period from Christmas Eve on December 24 to Twelfth Night on January 6 with rowdy, disguised playful/ludic (see Huizinga 1950) or carnivalesque (see Bakhtin 1968) behaviour that mainstream Euro North Americans associate more with Halloween than with this holiday season (see Santino 1994). (2)

Many such customs, termed the "informai house visit" (see Halpert and Story 1969, Lovelace 1980, and Pettitt 1995), involve a group (usually young men) who perambulate from one location to another within a community, to the households of socially and culturally proximate families and individuais. …

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