Mummers' Plays are one of the oldest surviving features of the traditional English Christmas. Mumming in England goes back for over a thousand years.
Mumming is best described as early pantomime. The plays are based loosely on the legend of St. George and the dragon. The plays are intended to show the struggle between good and evil.
Half a dozen heavily disguised characters perform the play. The characters vary from play to play, although the hero is always St George, who fights with the power of evil traditionally represented by the Turkish Knight (boo hiss). Characters in the Lions Part Mummers play include the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs, the Old 'Oss and many others, all dressed in their spectacular 'guizes'.
There is much medieval sword play in the play and usually one character eventually plays dead.
Cue the quack doctor who enters, performs a miraculous, albeit comedic, cure on the body and in the process neatly performs the symbolic act of reawakening the earth from the death of winter.
There are two more characters who may also appear in Mummers' Plays. One is Father Christmas.
The other is Johnny Jack (Or in the case of the Lion's Part Mummers play the character is Gill Finney.)
Johnny Jack's job was to appear at the end of the play to ask for money. His costume was usually hung with a number of rag dolls to represent his many children and to appeal to the rich for charity at Christmas time.
See photos of the Twelfth Night Celebrations in London performed by the Lions Part.