Collage of the 2001 Mummers,
Imagine an eight hours long celebration involving
over 10,000 marches. Add to that pictures, costumes
of slipper satin, with thousands of gold and silver
sequined braid and ostrich plumes and you experience a festival like none other––The
Philadelphia Mummers Parade.
The city of
Philadelphia celebrates each New Year
by turning it's main streets into a magical kingdom
of comedy, elaborate costumes, music and revelry
namely The Philadelphia Mummers Parade!
It started in the late 1700s when the Swedes
came to Tinicum just outside Philadelphia; they brought their customs of visiting friends on
"Second Day Christmas." December 26.
extended their period of celebration to include
New Year's Day and welcomed in the new year with Masquerades and parades of
noisy revelers the traditions of other nationalities were also present.
The use of mask and other costu-mes were carried over from Greek celebration
of King Momus
[Greek god of ridicule], the Italian
feast of Saturnalia, Ancient-Roman festival of
Saturn -- a time of unrestrained merriment, and the
British Mummery plays.Most people carried fire arms for
protection in those early days of the commonwealth, and it
didn't take long before pistols and muskets joined
with bells and noise makers to create the sound
of a new year. Those who "shot in" the new year
became the New Year's shooters and mummers
Groups would travel from house to house sing
songs and dance to be rewarded with food and drink. The practice became so widespread and
strong that in 1808 it was considered a problem by leaders of early Philadelphia high society.
An act was passed declaring that Masquerades, and masquerade balls and masked processions
to be public nuisances with treats of fines and imprisonment. While the celebrations were quieted they were
not stopped, and the law was abolished in the 1850s with no reports of
In the 1870s the nation was recuperating from
civil war, and what had been an uncoordinated
group of neighborhood celebrations turned into an
area wide parade with two main groups of partici-pants: Fancy dress clubs
and comic clubs...Sponsorship by the city of Philadelphia began with the turn of
the century in 1901, and was followed by the entrance of String bands in 1902
Many parade watchers regards the string bands
division, as the most exciting part of the day. One
element that makes the string bands unique is
the combination of instruments present. Their string
violins, banjos, and string bass; accordions, drums,
a glockenspiel (bells) and many saxophone-alto,
tenor. baritones, and bass are also used.
The bands compete for prizes based on how well each portray it's
selected theme through the categories of music, presentation or show and
Over time the presentation of the bands have changed
dramatically. In the early years the bands simply marched in formation
pausing to play for the crowds and judges, later the entire band would add
dance-like steps to the music. Today the influence of Hollywood and and
New York's Broadway are evident in the presentations.
While the entire band is moving to depict different scenes of the show. Small
groups of three to six members perform specialty acts in front band all
working with music and costumes to represent the chosen theme
Competition is demanding, and the rivalry to be "the
best in the land" is high!... viewers celebrate the start
New Year with an experience of excitement and grandeur that warms the cold days of Winter for
months to come.
The Fancy Brigade are groups
acting as units rather than individuals in competition. The brigades
presents choreographed shows with members in elaborate costumes depicting
a central theme.
Staging these presentations
that include Broadway stage like scenery carry on flatbed trucks along the
parade route and assembled each time the brigade presents their show
has become almost impossible.
The brigades are now judge, indoors at the
Pennsylvania convention center, on how effectively and spectacularly they present their portray their chosen theme
in costume and performance
Performance in the brigade concentrate on the
dance steps and use a separate
group of individuals, not in competition to provide the music.
for more on 'Philadelphia Mummers.'
It was not until the 1970s that another group
emerged. The Fancy Brigades separated as a unit from the fancy clubs. Today the parade
consist of four divisions: the comics, the fancies, the string bands and the Fancy
The Comic Clubs
The Comic Clubs exist to make people laugh and
they are experts at satire. Individuals and groups
dance their way along a parade route making fun
of anyone and everything.
Events of the time, TV shows athletes, Hollywood Stars, national and
international political figures, none escape the mockery of the
comics. Add to this the traditional clown activity of mayhem, dancing and
fooling with the crowds and you get a good view of the comic division.
A site particular to the comics area large groups of
brigades called wenches coming up the streets
dancing to the tune of "Oh them golden slippers,"
with costumes that resemble colonial dress their
unique three-tiered umbrellas bouncing along in
rhythm with the song. Comics are judged in various categories of individuals
and groups for their originality and how well they play out the theme they have chosen.
The bright and glorious rainbow of colors in the
fancy division follows the simple clown and hobo outfits of the comics.
Their names reflects their
mission, to bring dazzling display of colors, form and texture to life. Magnificent
in style and beauty their costumes takes one's breath away. The fancy divisions are judge on how well they play
out in color and grandeur the traditional fancy dress
theme, i.e., king jockey, trio clowns, handsome trim,
pantomime clowns and even female impersonators. The captain of each Fancy club competes in a
separate category to decide the "Best Dress " of the