Philadelphia Mummers Parade
The satin-clad over-the-top spectacle that thunders down Philadelphia’s Broad Street on New Years’ Day traces back to a ritual far less embellished, loud, or commercial.
Mummers were and are as old as time; homemade street theater, masked in repurposed laundry or creations of straw, parading through neighborhoods, performing by permission.
To quote Quaker City String Band, “From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia served at the nation’s temporary capital, while the Federal City was under construction. Washington lived in the President’s House right on 6th and Market Street and is credited with calling upon the Mummers New Year’s Day to celebrate the holiday for all 7 years he lived in Philadelphia. Groups of people would go door to door to recite poems, tell jokes, and friendly impersonations of Washington. In exchange, they received cakes and alcohol.”
Rooted in Philly’s working class immigrant families, the Mummers Parade has evolved to street theater in the extreme, weathering social evolution, political correctness, financial woes, and winter. Established groups; the Comics, Fancies, Fancy Brigades and String Bands, have their fans and followers. Non-traditional performing groups have had a tough time becoming established.
I stay non-political, if only to appreciate the scenery. Massive painted backdrops, wheeled in sections over blocks of rough pavement, rotate to come together with a click, just in time for the show.