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Blending in the melting pot

May 10th, 2004 Commentary Archives

Commentary on the uniqueness...or not, of culture celebrations.

This commentary blending in the Melting pot makes a statement about the inevitable changes that results from the influence of different cultures living in this mix we call the city.

Here we are again the seasons of cultural and ethnic celebration lies ahead. Call it cabin fever, or what ever you wish, the air is full of expectations. This year mother nature's  winter seem  to  linger for a while here in the Delaware valley though. But some things, she must know are inevitable.

This inevitability of the seasons  sets up some interesting comments about the melting pot's cultural celebrations. We all look forward to, and pretty much take  for granted  the reaffirmation or a renewal of celebrations that we tend to think of as unique to our cultures.

Much like it's namesake, the cooking utensil. In  the melting pot the results of this social fusion: assimilation and, or propagation can take many forms.

Here in Philadelphia we boast a unique celebration that occurs on the first day of the year. In contrast to the many warm-weather celebrations the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, as it's called, is especially unique in that it is an amalgam, mix of Swedish, Greek, Italian and British traditions. The Philadelphia Mummers claim to fame on the cold first day of January stems from its origins in a Swedish New Year's Celebration.

The Swedes brought their customs of visiting friends on "second Day Christmas" (December 26) to Tinicum outside of Philadelphia. Later they extended their period of celebration to include New Year's Day and welcomed in the new year with masquerades and  noisy revelers.

Traveling from house to house these groups would sing and dance to be rewarded with food and drink. The traditions of other ethnic groups would soon  integrated into this celebration.

The Greek brought their celebration of King Momus, Greek god of ridicule; the Italian, their feast of Saturnalia, Ancient Roman festival of Saturn -- a time of unrestrained merriment; and the British their Mummery plays.

When I first read  the history of the Philadelphia Mummers parade, I was taken back to my growing up in the Caribbean on the island of Barbados. Back then in the wee-hours of Christmas morning we were awakened to the sounds of  fifes and drums and about 10 or so revelers dressed up in humble costumes performing some classic act.

The performance always ended with the line, "De time is short, de journey is long gi we de li'le ting and let we ga long." At this point you're expected to give them food  and drink. You can understand the fascination I experienced. Apparently this coincidence is a result of our European colonial past.

Despite our so-called cultural mores, public  cultural celebrations do tend to blend themselves into other cultures. Sometimes far and wide.


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