A group of "comic" mummers in the 2005 parade
|Date(s)||New Year's Day|
|Location(s)||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Inaugurated||January 1, 1901 (first official parade)|
|Most recent||January 1, 2013|
Local clubs (usually called "New Years Associations") compete in one of four categories (comics, fancies, string bands, and fancy brigades). They prepare elaborate costumes and moveable scenery, which take months to complete. This is done in clubhouses – many of which are on or near 2nd Street (called "Two Street" by some local residents) in the Pennsport neighborhood of the city's South Philadelphia section – which also serve as social gathering places for members.
The parade is televised on WPHL-TV. After a national campaign to get the parade nationally televised, an edited two-hour broadcast of the parade was picked up by WGN America and WGN-TV; the broadcast debuted January 3, 2009.
The parade traces back to mid-17th-century roots, blending elements from Swedish, Finnish, Irish, English, German, and other European heritages, as well as African heritage. The parade is related to the Mummers Play tradition from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Revivals of this tradition are still celebrated annually in South Gloucestershire, England on Boxing Day and in parts of Ireland on St. Stephen's Day and also in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador around Christmas.
Swedes, Philadelphia's first settlers, brought the custom of visiting neighbors on "Second Day Christmas" (December 26) with them to Tinicum. This was soon extended through New Year's Day with costumed celebrants loudly parading through the city.
Traditional New Years' celebrations of firing guns (Swedes and Finns) and recitations of traditional rhymes (English and Welsh) joined common practices of visiting neighbors. The Belsnickle, an early German version of Santa Claus, inspired comic masqueraders riding through Tinicum and Kingsessing dressed as clowns.
U.S. President George Washington carried on the official custom of New Year's Day calls during the seven years he occupied President's House in Philadelphia. The Mummers continued their traditions of comic verse in exchange for cakes and ale. Small groups of up to twenty mummers, their faces blackened, went door to door, shooting and shouting, spoofing General Washington and the English Mummers' play St. George and the Dragon.
Philadelphia's 19th-century Carnival of Horns drew thousands of merrymakers in festive costumes to the vicinity of Eighth and South Streets in the South Philadelphia section. An 1808 law decreed that "masquerades" and "masquerade halls" were "common nuisances" and that anyone participating would be subject to a fine and imprisonment. It was apparently never enforced and was repealed in 1859.
Southern plantation life's contributions include the parade's theme song, James A. Bland's "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" (introduced by Charles Dumont in 1903), as well as the 19th-century cakewalk, dubbed the "Mummers' Strut" or the "2 Street Strut". Other ethnic groups have been integrated into the parade through the years. Italians began to participate in large numbers after World War II.
Celebrants using firearms to "shoot in" the new year much later inspired the "New Year's Shooters and Mummers Association". Revelers traveling from door-to-door sang and danced for rewards of food and drink. Cash prizes debuted in 1906.
Early Swedish Mummers appointed a "speech director", who performed a special dance with a traditional rhyme:
|“||Here we stand before your door,
As we stood the year before;
The earliest documented club, the Chain Gang, formed in 1840 and Golden Crown first marched in 1876 with cross-town rivals Silver Crown forming soon after. By 1881, a local report said "Parties of paraders" made the street "almost like a masked Ball."
The first official parade was held January 1, 1901. The first string band, Trilby, was organized in 1898, first paraded in 1902, and last paraded in 1924. The oldest continually marching string band, having never missed a parade, is the Joseph A. Ferko String Band, organized in 1922, and first started marching in 1923. In the early years of the official parade, the makeshift costumes of most celebrants were gradually replaced by more elaborate outfits funded by associations' fund-raising efforts.
While the parade has clear African-American influences and features a theme song by a black composer, almost all parade participants are white. The earliest parades were not. The all African American Golden Eagle Club, formed in 1866, had 300 members in the 1906 parade. With the nadir of American race relations, the last black groups marched in 1929.
As of 2008, the parade cost the city over $1 million each year, including $750,000 for police and parade services and $360,000 in prize money. The 2008 budget crisis led the city to propose closing numerous libraries and firehouses and the scaling back of expenditures for the parade, offering $300,000 for the 2009 parade and nothing for 2010. Creative financial ideas are being proposed for 2010 and beyond.
After the end of city funding for the parade, the Mummers created the "Save the Mummers Fund" to help cover the additional city fees to paying expenses for police and sanitation services during the event.
Funding for the parade during the first decade of the 2000s was provided for several years by Southwest Airlines, which also took naming rights of the parade, which was called "Southwest Airlines Mummers Parade." Funding for the 2012 parade was provided by SugarHouse Casino, which renamed the parade to "Sugar House Mummers Parade." 
In September 2009, The Bacon Brothers musical duo (comprising Philadelphia natives Michael and Kevin Bacon) recorded a special version of their song "New Year's Day" with members of the All-Star String Band. Proceeds from the sale of the CD went to the Save the Mummers Fund. Additionally, the duo performed a benefit concert for the parade in December 2009.
Location, time and route
The parade traveled northward on Broad Street in Philadelphia for decades until the 1995 parade when the parade was moved to Market Street due to construction work on Broad Street (notably the "Avenue of the Arts" between Washington Avenue and Philadelphia City Hall). After construction was completed, the parade returned to Broad Street from 1996 to 1999. For various reasons, the parade was moved again to Market Street in 2000. In 2004, the parade was moved back to Broad Street. In 1997, the Fancy Brigades were moved to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, allowing for larger sets, but limiting audience size. In 2011, the Fancy Brigades returned to the parade.
Each year, thousands of people participate in the parade, many wearing elaborate costumes costing tens of thousands of dollars to make and weighing well over 100 pounds. $395,000 in prizes is awarded to the various winners. The costs for making the outfits plus fees to choreographers and prop designers often far exceed the prizes available. While club fund raisers, hall rentals and bank loans often cover much of the expense, individual members frequently spend hundreds or thousands of dollars of their own money. To raise funds, many string bands and their members seek paying gigs, particularly in area Fourth of July parades, the annual "Show of Shows" (held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, each winter), weddings and other events. Many clubs hold "beef and beers" or 50/50 raffles. Most charge annual dues for membership.
As of 2008, the parade began at 9:00 am and ended sometime before 8:00 pm. fancy brigades performed at the nearby convention center at noon and, in a second, judged show, at 5:00 pm. An individual Mummers' strut – a weaving, comical dance/walk with pumping arms held out to the side – may last two or three hours from South Philadelphia to City Hall. The whole parade, at close to eleven hours, may have been the longest parade in the U.S. Due to budget cuts, the 2009 parade was shorter, scheduled to begin at 10:00 am and last six and a half hours.
Incidents of foul weather have delayed the parade on occasions by several hours, including 2008. If an all-day postponement is required for foul weather, the parade is usually held the following Saturday (or Sunday, if Saturday is inclement), as the expensive and fancy costumes are easily harmed by precipitation or high winds.
Each year, there is a festival leading up to the parade called MummersFest. It allows fans to tour the Pennsylvania Convention Center to watch the Fancy Brigades build their props and practice for their New Year's Day reveal.
Because of the large number of clubhouses there, South 2nd Street (Two Street) often serves as a party location after the parade, with the epicenter being South 2nd Street and Mifflin Street. Local residents and others in the area for the parade crowd the local bars, clubhouses and sidewalks, sometimes joining in the unofficial parade. With the parade they spent months preparing for over, the Mummers let loose and celebrate. This multi-block party continues well into the night or early morning, with some Mummers not sleeping for twenty-four hours straight.
The wearing of blackface paint was once a traditional part of the parade. Growing dissent from civil-rights groups and the offense of the black community led to most clubs phasing out blackface in the early 1960s. A 1964 city policy officially ruled out blackface but incidents of blackface-wearing have been reported since then.
Comics are clowns, many of them well-liquored, in colorful outfits, often with multi-level umbrellas who dance to recordings such as "Golden Slippers". The comics typically start the parade. Themes often gently parody current events and traditional life. Prizes are awarded for floats, groups, brigades, couples, original costume, original character, and juvenile.
The comic clubs are
Wench brigades, an offshoot of comics, pride themselves on continuing traditions such as the dress-and-bloomers "suits", painted faces, decorated umbrellas, and live bands to accompany the brigade. Wench brigades include Bryson, Cara Liom, Froggy Carr, O'Malley, Oregon, Pirates, Riverfront, and Saints.
The fancy division is made up of four mother clubs:
Members with some small floats strut in elaborate costumes to music provided by a live band. Prizes are awarded to individuals, trios, juveniles and captains.
String bands provide elaborate performances. Limited to unamplified strings, reeds, and percussion, string bands feature banjos, saxophones (alto, tenor, baritone and bass), accordions, double basses, drums, glockenspiels and violins in musical arrangements tied to a theme presented by the captain, beautiful costumes and props (some people call them floats). Historically, string bands performed mostly in military-drill formations. Harrowgate (now Uptown) String Band's first-prize-winning railroad tunes with Broadway-style dance in 1976 changed that. String-band performances are now the most elaborate of the parade, outdone only by the fancy brigades indoor performance.
String bands include:
The largest category with the largest crews, the fancy brigades march the southernmost portion of the parade route, before heading to the convention center for a ticketed show and judging. Until the late 1970s, the fancy brigades were simply larger presentations within the Fancies. As the props grew larger, more cumbersome and more vulnerable to wind, rain and snow, the decision was made to move the Brigades indoors.
Fancy brigades include:
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mummers Parade.|
- phillymummers.com Official Parade website
- The Philadelphia Mummers String Band Record, Comprehensive record of all the String Bands and their prize finishes, since 1902.