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Philadelphia Mummers

Mummers Collage.
 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.

Later they 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
of today.
 

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 convictions

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

String Bands
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 costumes.

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
of the New Year with an experience of excitement and grandeur that warms the cold days of Winter for months to come.

Fancy Brigades
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.
See Information Page for more on 'Philadelphia Mummers.'

 

Gallery slide show 400x300


Mummer Divisions
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 Brigades.

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.

Fancy Divisions
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 clubs captains.

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