Music Monday: Philadelphia’s Mummer Parade

The Mummers are a Philadelphia institution, perhaps most well-known for their annual New Year’s Day parade. I’ve mentioned them before in a few posts I’ve written about our neighborhood’s 4th of July parade, which often included a guest appearance from a small subset of one of the Mummers’ string bands.

But I’ve never written a post just about the Mummers and since they just had their annual parade, I thought it was time. Here is a blurb from Wikipedia:

The Mummers Parade is held each New Year’s Day in Philadelphia. Local clubs (usually called “New Years Associations”) 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) in the Pennsport neighborhood of the city’s South Philadelphia section – which also serve as social gathering places for members.

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 Britain and Ireland. 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. The first official parade was held January 1, 1901.

And celebrate they do.

I attended a few Mummers’ Parades when I was a child. I had two uncles and a couple of cousins who played in one of the strong bands. While I was a little young to know completely what was going on, my sense was that the bands were essentially a front for a men’s drinking club (women were not allowed in the parade until the 1970s). And I also seem to recall that on the day of the parade, the drinking started at the crack of dawn. Again, that was just my perception as an outsider.

But somehow, despite all that drinking, they put on a great show on New Year’s Day, marching through the streets of Philadelphia.

When I think about the Mummers, a few things always come to mind, banjoes, the Mummers Strut and the parade’s theme song, “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers”.

Here are two short videos (both less than 45 seconds) that give you a sense of each one. As you will see,  it’s sort of like Mardi Gras comes to Philly, plus it’s not unusual for parade watchers to join in the festivities.

*image from Philly Magazine

33 thoughts on “Music Monday: Philadelphia’s Mummer Parade

  1. Good to see those old colonial traditions are being maintained, even if they’ve been stretched a bit. I think you’ve shortchanged us with the videos, though: I’ve just looked on YouTube and there is one from this year’s event that clocks in at 7hrs, 9mins, 7secs. I may be gone for a while…

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