Mummers Parade

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Mummers Parade
2010 Mummers New Year's Day Parade (4235886776).jpg
A String Band in the Mummers Parade
Date(s)New Year's Day
Years active122
Inaugurated1 January 1901 (first official parade)
Most recentJanuary 2 2022

The Mummers Parade is held each New Year's Day in Philadelphia. Local clubs (usually called "New Years Associations" or "New Years Brigades") compete in one of five categories (Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades). They prepare elaborate costumes, performance routines, and movable 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)[1] in the Pennsport neighborhood of the city's South Philadelphia section – which also serve as social gathering places for members.

The parade has been broadcast since 1993 on WPHL-TV,[2] which has also live streamed the event on its website since 2011. After a national campaign to get the parade nationally televised,[3] an edited two-hour broadcast of the parade was picked up by WGN America and WGN-TV; the broadcast debuted January 3, 2009.


A few members of the Holy Rollers N.Y.B. in the 2008 parade presenting their theme "Our Hearts are Wild for Diamonds"
A few members of the Aqua String Band in the 2005 parade presenting their theme "Just Plain Dead"
A "fancy" mummer in the 2005 parade
Golden Sunrise Fancy Club members participate in the 2007 parade

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.[4][5] The parade is related to the Mummers Play tradition from Britain and Ireland.[6] Revivals of this tradition are still celebrated annually in South Gloucestershire, England on Boxing Day along with other locations in England and in parts of Ireland on St. Stephen's Day and also in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador around Christmas.

Swedes and Finns, the first European colonists in the Philadelphia area, 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.[6][7] They 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;
Give us whiskey; give us gin,
Open the door and let us in.[7][8]
Or give us something nice and hot
Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot![9]

The Mummers derive their name from the Mummers' plays performed in Philadelphia in the 18th century as part of a wide variety of working class street celebrations around Christmas. By the early 19th century, these coalesced with earlier Swedish customs, including the Christmas neighbor visits and possibly shooting firearms on New Year's Day (although this was common in other countries as well) as well as the Pennsylvania German custom of "belsnickling," where adults in disguise questioned children about their behavior during the previous year.[10]

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, and adapting the English Mummer's play by replacing the character of "King George" with that of "General Washington."[8]

Through the 19th century, large groups of disguised (often in blackface) working class young men roamed the streets on New Year's Day, organizing "riotous" processions, firing weapons into the air, demanding free drinks in taverns, and generally challenging middle and upper-class notions of order and decorum.[10]

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 successfully enforced and was repealed in 1859.[8][11][12] Henry Muhlenberg, writing in 1839, reported, "Men met on the roads in Tinicum and Kingsessing, who were disguised as clowns, shouting at the top of their voices and shooting guns.[8]

Unable to suppress the custom, by the 1880s the city government began to pursue a policy of co-option, requiring participants to join organized groups with designated leaders who had to apply for permits and were responsible for their groups actions. The earliest documented club, the Chain Gang, had 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."[12] By 1900, these groups formed part of an organized, city-sanctioned parade with cash prizes for the best performances.[10]

Southern plantation life's contributions include the parade's theme song, James A. Bland's "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" (introduced in 1903), as well as the 19th-century cakewalk, dubbed the "Mummers' Strut" or the "2 Street Strut".[4][7]

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 2014.[13] 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.[4]

The official parade has been cancelled only thrice during its history. One happened in 1919 as a result of the aftermath of World War I; another occurred in 1934 due to the effects of the Great Depression and a lack of prize money; and 2021 on grounds of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As they assimilated to Philadelphia, many immigrant groups have joined the tradition. Numerous Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans from South Philadelphia became involved in the Mummers Parade as both Mummers performers and parade goers. Other ethnic groups were soon integrated into the parade through the years. Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants to South Philadelphia began to participate in the Mummers Parade in large numbers after World War II.[14] While South Philadelphia (especially Pennsport) remains one of the most important centers for Mummers traditions and Mummers members, more recent immigrants to the neighborhood from Asia and Latin America generally have fewer ties to the parade and tradition.[15]

While almost all parade participants are currently white, African American mummers existed in the past. The all African American Golden Eagle Club, formed in 1866, had 300 members in the 1906 parade, for example. Judges systematically discriminated against black clubs, however, and the last, the Octavius Catto Club, withdrew after receiving last place in the 1929 parade.[16] The brass bands hired to accompany the Comic Brigades often include black musicians, but do not dress in costume and consider themselves session musicians rather than Mummers. By 1964, only one African American mummer, Willis Fluelling, remained.[17] As of 2007, a few of the less traditional clubs, such as Spiral Q Puppet Theater's West Philadelphia Mummers Brigade, were integrated.

The comic "wenches" and other female roles in most skits are typically performed by men in drag.[18] Women were not officially allowed in the parade until the 1970s.[12][18]

Budget problems[edit]

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.[19][20]

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.[21]

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."[22]

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.[23] Proceeds from the sale of the CD went to the Save the Mummers Fund.[21] Additionally, the duo performed a benefit concert for the parade in December 2009.[24]

Location, time, and route[edit]

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.[12][18] $395,000 in prizes is awarded to the various winners.[25] 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.[18] 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.[26]

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.[1] 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.[18] Due to budget cuts, the 2009 parade was shorter, scheduled to begin at 10:00 am and last six and a half hours.[19][27]

Incidents of foul weather have delayed the parade on occasions by several hours, including 2008.[28]

On January 1, 2015, the Mummers began their parade route at Philadelphia's City Hall and headed south along Broad Street to Washington Avenue. The Mummers used the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a staging area prior to moving to City Hall to be judged. After the judging, the mummers joined the parade heading south on Broad St. The parade ended at Washington Ave, with some clubs still heading east to Second Street for the unofficial “Two Street Parade”.[29]

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.

2nd Street[edit]

Philadelphia Mummers Museum at 2nd St and Washington Ave

Because of the large number of clubhouses there, South 2nd Street (Two Street) often serves as a party location after the parade, with the center of activity 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 finished, 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.[1][30]

In 2009, the city declined to pay for any post-parade celebrations on Two Street.[27] However, Rep. Bob Brady helped secure funding for the event in the final hours.[31]


The parade has been accused of including hate speech, racist, sexist, anti-LGBT, and culturally insensitive costumes, makeup, and images.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40]

The wearing of blackface carried over from minstrel shows in the early 20th century.[41] Growing dissent from civil-rights groups and the objections of the black community led to most clubs phasing out blackface in the early 1960s.

In 1963, one week before the parade, concerned about their image for a nationwide broadcast, the Mummers banned blackface for the parade. Angry Mummers picketed the parade magistrate's home, leading to a reversal of the decision. Concerned about a possible riot, the city called in extra police for the parade.[42] A 1964 city policy officially banned blackface,[12][43] but some groups have continued to wear blackface into the 21st century over growing protests.[44] As of 2017's parade, the use of blackface is uncommon, but the use of redface and brownface continues, along with other types of racial and ethnic mimicry.[45]

In 1985, South Philadelphia String Band petitioned to use blackface and was denied.[42]

In 1987, mayor Wilson Goode had Mummers photos removed from City Hall because the Mummers appeared to be wearing blackface. Saying the Mummers were not in blackface, a petition resulted in the photos being restored, though not near the mayor's office.[42]

In 1996, half of the string bands reported having female members. The bands' captains, though, made it clear to reporters that they did not want to let women in the bands, but felt they had to, due to declining membership.[42]

In 2003, word spread that Slick Duck Comic Brigade was working on a skit involving priests chasing altar boys. Protests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Diocese of Camden and the Catholic League, and WPHL-TV announcing they would not air the skit led to the group's cancelling of the skit and claiming it was just a prank.[46][42]

Goodtimers Comic Brigade's 2003 entry highlighted the Mummers' continued use of blackface, skirting of the rules with brown, red, purple and blue makeup and strong references to minstrel shows. Mummers have declared the alternate color choices as a direct protest of the longstanding and frequently flouted ban. The Goodtimers' stand in for Al Jolson wore dark blue makeup with kinky hair, backed by "a minstrel in blackface on a large poster with 'Gone Yes — Forgotten Never'".[47]

2009's B. Love Strutters Brigade referenced Joey Vento of Geno's Steaks 2008 charges of discrimination filed by the city's Commission on Human Relations. In the skit, "'Aliens of an Illegal Kind,' Arabs had long beards and turbans, Mexicans wore sombreros, and Asian women were depicted as geishas."[42][48]

In 2013, The Ferko String Band offered "Ferko's Bringing Back the Minstrel Days"[42] and Venetian NYA club presented "Indi-sourcing", showing a call center with members dressed as Indians being raided by members dressed as Native Americans and moving the call center to New Jersey.[49]

The 2015 parade again featured blackface, along with a satire of the Black Lives Matter titled "Wench Lives Matter".[42]

In 2016 a group presented a Mexican-themed skit, with all of the performers wearing brownface. Parodies of Black Lives Matter continued.[42]

The same year, Finnegan New Years Brigade presented a Caitlyn Jenner skit showing her pre-transition on the cover of Wheaties box and after transitioning on the cover of a Froot Loops box. A male Mummer, dressed as Jenner, appeared, mocking her Vanity Fair cover announcing she was transgender. News reports showed a Mummer with the Wheaties/Froot Loops sign screaming "fuck the gays!" Social media posts led to two of the Mummers being fired from their day-to-day jobs and ousted from the club.[42][50]

In 2020, two Mummers were banned from future parades after wearing blackface.[51] In response, mayor Jim Kenney said the city would end the parade "if Mummers leadership does not make immediate changes to better control the parade". City Councilmember Cindy Bass introduced a bill that Mummers who wore blackface risk a $75 fine and a five-year banishment.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Max L. Raab (2001). Strut! The Movie (DVD). Philadelphia: Max L. Raab Productions. Archived from the original on October 9, 2007. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
  2. ^ "SugarHouse Announces Presenting Sponsorship of 2012 Mummers Parade and Fancy Brigade Finale". November 18, 2011.
  3. ^ "National TV Campaign Website". Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Mummers Parade History". Archived from the original on May 16, 2008.. Philadelphia Department of Recreation.
  5. ^ Tadeushuk, Patrick (March 29, 2007). "Special, History – Mummers Museum". Retrieved August 14, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Multicultural Views: Traditional Gardens, Palm-Weaving, Khmer Arts, and Mummery". Philadelphia Folklore Project. 1992. Archived from the original on January 6, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ a b c "The Philadelphia Tradition" Archived December 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Philadelphia Mummers Association. Retrieved November 27, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d "The Ancient Custom of Mummery". Archived from the original on December 10, 2004. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  9. ^ Welch, Jr., Charles E. (October–December 1966). ""Oh, Dem Golden Slippers": The Philadelphia Mummers Parade". Journal of American Folklore. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 79, No. 314. 79 (314): 523–536. doi:10.2307/538218. JSTOR 538218.
  10. ^ a b c Davis, Susan G. (Summer 1982). "Making Night Hideous: Christmas Revelry and Public Order in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia". American Quarterly. 34 (2): 185–199. doi:10.2307/2712609. JSTOR 2712609.
  11. ^ Marion, John Francis (January 1981). Smithsonian.
  12. ^ a b c d e "On New Year's Day in Philadelphia, Mummer's the Word". Archived version retrieved January 4, 2008.
  13. ^ Mummers’ famous Trilby band is sidelined for Philadelphia parade - Reading Eagle Dec. 28, 2014
  14. ^ Richard N. Juliani (1992). "Uses of Tradition: Arts of Italian Americans in Philadelphia". Philadelphia Folklore Project. Archived from the original on January 6, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Hepp, Chris (August 7, 2014). "Mummers Parade going south? City mulls big change". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  16. ^ Welch, Charles E., Jr. (October–December 1966). ""Oh, Dem Golden Slippers": The Philadelphia Mummers Parade". Journal of American Folklore. 79 (314): 523–536. doi:10.2307/538218. JSTOR 538218.
  17. ^ Guendelsberger, Emily (December 19, 2013). "Why blackface still dogs the Mummers 50 years after it was banned". Philadelphia CityPaper. Archived from the original on January 29, 2014. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c d e DeLeon, Clark (Winter 1984/1985). "Mummers on Parade". National Geographic.
  19. ^ a b "Shortened 2009 Strut?". Philadelphia Metro. December 15, 2008.
  20. ^ Philadelphia Daily News. December 29, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  21. ^ a b Bayliss, Kelly (June 17, 2009). "Kevin Bacon Wants To Save the Mummers". WCAU. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  22. ^ "Sugarhouse Casino Press Release". Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  23. ^ Highsmith, Steve (June 17, 2009). "The Mummers and Kevin Bacon – The Bacon Brothers Band Were Joined in a Philadelphia Studio To Record a Version of Their Song, New Year's Day, with Actual Philly Mummers!". WPHL-TV. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  24. ^ Staff (December 5, 2009). "Bacon Brothers Mummers Concert – Help Kevin Bacon and the Bacon Brothers Save the Mummers! – Visit To Make a Donation". WPHL-TV. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  25. ^ "If You Go: Mummers Parade 2008". Philadelphia Metro. December 28, 2007.
  26. ^ [dead link] Strauss, Robert. (December 29, 2008). "Mummers, Dollars and Change". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  27. ^ a b "Another Year of Mummery". Philadelphia Metro. December 30, 2008.
  28. ^ "A Late Start to Mummers Parade". January 1, 2008. Archived from the original on January 4, 2008. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  29. ^ "2015 Mummers Parade Route - Learn about the Mummers Parade Route".
  30. ^ Dubin, Murray (June 1996). South Philadelphia; Mummers, Memories, and the Melrose Diner. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-429-5.
  31. ^ Carey, Art (January 1, 2009). "Brady Steps In To Save Two Street". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on January 15, 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  32. ^ Brennan, Chris. The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 2, 2019, "Philly City Council president inaccurately accuses Mummers troupe of wearing blackface". "The parade has a history of controversial and, at times, racist skits...". Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  33. ^ "This Famous Philadelphia Tradition Has An Extensive History Of Racism And Sexism". HuffPost. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  34. ^ Owens, Ernest (January 3, 2019). "After Latest Mummers Controversy, Kenney Has to Pick a Side on Racism". Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  35. ^ Owens, Ernest (January 3, 2017). "Want to Solve the Mummers' Diversity Problem? Just Call It "The White Heritage Parade"". Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  36. ^ "After sensitivity training, will Mummers rein in raucous antics?". WHYY. December 22, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  37. ^ McQuade, Dan (January 2, 2016). "People Are Angry at the 2016 Mummers Parade". Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  38. ^ "Council President Clarke Statement On Blackface At Mummers Parade - Updated". Philadelphia City Council. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  39. ^ Brian Hickey (January 1, 2019). "Someone put a Blue Lives Matter flag on the Rizzo statue and council candidate took it down". PhillyVoice. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  40. ^ "Why everyone's mad about the Mummers and blackface again - On top of Philly news". January 13, 2020. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  41. ^ John-Hall, Annette (December 26, 2007). "A Photojournalist Shows There's More to Mummers Than Feathers, Wigs and a Racist Past". "'Minstrel shows were huge in Philly at the turn of the century,' said Kennedy, explaining the origins of blackface Mummery. 'There were even ads for minstrel shows in the Philadelphia Tribune. The string bands are a direct descendant of the minstrel shows and vaudeville.'" The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Orso, Anna. Billy Penn (WHYY-TV), January 5, 2016. "Blackface, prostitutes, hate speech: A brief history of the Mummers behaving badly". Accessed January 17, 2020.
  43. ^ Tom, Brittany. the, January 3, 2013, "Philadelphia’s Mummers parade features blackface performance." Accessed January 3, 2016.
  44. ^ "More Diverse Mummers Parade Marred by Homophobic, Racist Acts".
  45. ^ DuComb, Christian. Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia. University of Michigan Press, 2017.
  46. ^ "Mummers Parade Drops Offensive Skit". Catholic League. July 5, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  47. ^ "Why blackface still dogs the Mummers 50 years after it was banned :: Cover". Philadelphia City Paper. October 1, 2015. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  48. ^ "Archives". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  49. ^ McQuade, Dan (January 2, 2013). "Is This Mummers Routine Racist?". Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  50. ^ "Philly Mayor-Elect, Mummers Officials Denounce Hateful Acts". CBS Philly. January 2, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  51. ^ "Two Mummers who wore blackface 'are never going to be allowed to march again' for Froggy Carr Wench Brigade". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  52. ^ Walsh, Sean Collins. "Philly Mayor Kenney to the Mummers: End blackface, or the parade is over". The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Further reading[edit]

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