These are Mummers, people dressed up in whatever they could find around the house to disguise themselves. During the 12 days of Christmas in the tiny outports, groups of mummers would circulate from house to house each evening. There would be a loud knock on the door and a voice calling out "any mummers 'lowed (allowed) in?" If the answer was yes, in they would troop. The fun was to sing songs, recite poems, have a dance all the while the home owners are trying to guess who is who. Much hilarity is a given. What a way to brighten the winter days!
My parents tell the story of how terrified I was when mummers visited my grandparents' house the Christmas I was just past 2 years old. Well, duh. Look at this picture. Yikes. Many years later when my husband and I lived in an outport, we received mummers every Christmas. I had to be sure I had Purity Syrup to serve and fruit cake; mummers were always thirsty being so hot in costumes and dancing in hot kitchens.
There were always lots of jokes and sometimes outlandish comments made to us in disguised voices, so the perpetrators could get away with it. By the way, if you guessed someone's name correctly, they had to take off their masks. This custom is still alive and well in my home province.
The capitol city of St. John's has a Mummer's Festival and Parade each December. Mummers are represented artistically in all sorts of ways...songs, photographs, art, ornaments, etc. and you can even buy mummers as earrings if you want.
Old days depiction.
The artist, David Blackwood, immortalized the Newfoundland custom in his haunting painting, Young Mummer in Margaret Feltham's House.
Portion of the St. John's Mummers Parade