Oh to be a Mummer, now that New Year’s is almost here!
This is the 103rd year for Philadelphia’s New Year’s Day Mummers Parade, and this is one of those festivities that sound like so much fun. I’m hoping that a few of my Philly readers chime in here and let me know if it’s as much fun as it sounds. (Kelly? Caroline? Anyone?)
The history of the Mummers goes back to the Roman Festival of Saturnalia. Latin laborers wore masks and marched around giving gifts. There was also a Celtic version that was a little bit more like trick-or-treat, featuring costumes and little gifts. Both events were filled with pageantry, enthusiasm, and more than a little bit of noise.
Philadelphia got into the act in 1901 with the first official Mummers Parade. Unofficially large celebrations like this had been going on in Philadelphia for some time even though there were laws prohibiting it. All that noise and merry-making was deemed too much of a nuisance. No one was ever convicted of breaking this law, and the revelry eventually became sanctioned.
Since its inception, the Mummers Parade has evolved into a full fledged festival with thousand of capped, capped, and sequined participants strutting their stuff. Mummers don’t walk, march, or even dance. They cakewalk — a strut that has become closely identified with the Mummers and the parade.
The festivities last for the entirity of New Year’s Day, and much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, is a competition between the Mummers club around the area. Each club creates a theme, and then develops it with costumes, props, and pageantry that supports the theme. This is BIG business, and thousands of dollars go into club competitions. Although there is some money to be won, it’s really all about bragging rights for the entire year!
Parade entries are divided into four divisions:
- Comic Clubs focus on satire and ridicule, and poke fun at anyone and everyone. From the mild to the ribald, anyone can be a target.
- Fancy Clubs focus on beautiful colors, costumes, and elaborate, themed presentations. This is pageantry at its finest. (top photo)
- String Bands focus on a merger of music and costumery into a uniquie kind of band. You’ll find a variety of strings, glockenspiels, saxophones, accordions and drums, and lots of accompanying dancers.
- Fancy Brigades focus on performance. They march in the parade, but are judged during on their intricate dance routines during a later outdoor performance. (See video below.)
If you’ll miss New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, you can learn a little more about the Mummers at the Mummers Museum (1100 South 2nd Street, Philadelphia). It looks like one of those quirky museums that never fails to grab my attention.
Image credits: All from flickr, top Fancy group, costume, clown