Mumming, or Mummer's Plays, was a common entertainment during the Christmas season. Mummers would usually dress in a guise and perform a play, sometimes with a religious allegorical undertone. Common characters in these plays would include Saint George, Robin Hood, a Turkish Knight and Slasher (both opponents of St. George) and later, Father Christmas.
The players would wear costumes which disguised them. They would then go from house to house, or perform in the streets. Mummers would often ask the crowd for money. It was apparently a very lucrative profession, sometimes raising an entire months wages in one night!
Mumming is originally thought to have come to England from Ireland. Like many of our Christmas traditions, it has evolved through time and is still practiced today!
For a little fun, be sure to check out The Onion's news report on Mummers. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Onion, it is a news spoof. I thought their take on mumming was pretty funny. Watch it here.
For a real, modern take on mumming, be sure to check out this video: