Blue Christmas, also called the Longest Night in the Western Christian tradition, is a day in the Advent season marking the longest night of the year. On this day, some churches hold a church service that honours people who have lost loved ones in that year. The Holy Eucharist is traditionally a part of the service of worship on this day. Some churches hold a service of worship on the longest night of the year, which falls on or about December 21st, the Winter Solstice.
Blue Christmas, the 21 December is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas’s struggle to believe the tale of Jesus’ resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss. Saint Thomas the Apostle (called Didymus which means “the twin,” or Mar Thoma in Syriac) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament. He is informally called Doubting Thomas because he doubted Jesus’ resurrection when first told (in the Gospel of John account only), followed later by his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God,” on seeing Jesus’ wounded body.
Traditionally, he is said to have travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, travelling as far as Tamilakam which are the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in present-day India. According to tradition, Thomas reached Muziris, (modern-day North Paravur and Kodungalloor in the state of Kerala, India) in 50 CE and baptized several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians or Mar Thoma Nazranis. After his death, the reputed relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle were enshrined as far as Mesopotamia in the 3rd century, and later moved to various places. In 1258, some of the relics were brought to Abruzzo in Ortona, Italy, where they have been held in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle. He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of India, and the name Thoma remains quite popular among Saint Thomas Christians of India.
Mumping day also takes place on annually 21 December in parts of England. Mumping is an uncommon word for a seasonal activity, which takes place mostly in the West Country. More commonly it is known as mumming, for a performance that was originally in mime or in which participants were in disguise. The name for my local performance seems to be from a confusion between mumming and another old custom of the pre-Christmas period, also called mumping.
Mumping is attached to the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle on 21 December. This used to be known in some parts of England as Mumping Day, when poor people went around their parish begging for alms. It’s from the seventeenth-century Dutch verb mompen, to cheat or deceive, but it became an English dialect word meaning to scrounge or beg. Mumping is also British police jargon for accepting small favours such as free meals from friendly tradespeople. Activities which take place on Mumping Day include a procession and entertainment under the notional supervision of a Lord of Misrule. Mumping Day was also sometimes called Begging Day. In Kent it was Doleing Day, because gifts or doles — such as draughts of beer or loaves of bread — were given by prosperous people to needy locals. In various counties it has been referred to as going a-gooding, to ask for “good things” for Christmas, which usually meant food or small sums of money, and also going a-corning, to ask farmers for gifts of wheat (English corn) to make bread. Mumping Day is also mentioned in the Discworld novel Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, 2002.
This mumping, by the way, is not the same as the one, now mainly Scottish, meaning grimacing or grumbling, mumbling or muttering, or moving the jaws as if munching food. That’s linked to another old Dutch verb, also spelled mompen, to mumble, and with the rare German verb mumpfen, to chew with a full mouth. It is from the word Mumping that the name of the viral disease mumps, is derived because of the look of a sufferer’s face when it’s swollen.