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Mummers 101: Celebrate New Year's Day Like A Local
A Primer To the Who, What, When, Where & Why of Philly's Mummer's Parade
New Year’s Day is about celebrating, and there’s no better place to fete than at Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade, a tradition dating back to 1901 in which 10,000 men, women and children dressed in colorfully lavish costumes twirl, sashay, pirouette and strut down one of the city’s main streets.
Over the past few years, tweaks to the traditional route now take the Mummers from north to south with judging at the start of the parade instead of at the end and performances along the length of the route rather than in specific locations.
While a carnival-like atmosphere welcomes anyone who decides to stop by at the last minute, a little advance preparation helps revelers get the best views of the spectacle. Better still, spending the night in the city ensures an early start to the day. The Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package and other packages are available at visitphilly.com/hotel-packages. A complete guide to New Year’s and the entire holiday season is available at visitphilly.com/holidays.
Mummers are men and women of all ages who belong to more than 40 organized clubs that make up the parade participants. The clubs, split into five categories—Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands, Fancy Brigades—function mainly to stage their playful performances on New Year’s Day. But Mummers do perform at other events throughout the year, and for many Philadelphia-area families, Mummery is a tradition that spans generations. phillymummers.com
The day’s highlight is the parade itself, which begins at City Hall and marches south on Broad Street to Washington Avenue. Each division knows its role: The Comics and Wench Brigades satirize issues, institutions and people; the Fancies impress with glamorous outfits that rival those of royalty; the String
Bands gleefully play banjoes, saxophones, percussion and other reed and string instruments; and the Fancy Brigades produce tightly choreographed theatrical extravaganzas. But the noisy camaraderie shouldn’t fool the novice spectator, as each club is embroiled in a friendly yet fierce competition for local bragging rights.
After they’ve displayed their floats, costumes, dances and music, the Comics, Fancies and String Bands that are based in South Philadelphia head down to 2nd Street (or Two Street as it’s affectionately known) to spend the rest of the day and night in hearty revelry with the crowds that follow them there. But there’s more work ahead for members of the Fancy Brigades. Those groups put on two elaborate Broadway-style performances for ticket holders at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the afternoon.
The parade begins at City Hall with judging taking place at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. It then goes south on Broad Street to its end point at Washington Avenue, where people can purchase food and beverages from vendors set up in tents for a family-friendly celebration. Once the Fancy Brigades finish the entire route—an addition to last year’s parade—they head to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their performances.
Want a sneak peek of what’s to come? Before heading to the judging stand, Mummers do quick run-throughs of their routines as they line up on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 16th and 22nd Streets. Here, spectators can also meet the performers, get a close-up look at the spectacular costumes and even snap Instagram-worthy photos with the marchers.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. The shorter route lends itself to denser crowds, so for sidewalk seating, fans should arrive early to claim their spots. Fancy Brigades hold two ticketed competitions at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, at 11:30 a.m. and at 5 p.m. (Ticket information below.) The revelry then moves to Two Street for a party that goes well into the early morning hours.
Mummery traces its roots to ancient Roman laborers who ushered in the festival of Saturnalia by marching in masks while exchanging gifts and satirizing the issues of the day. In the 1600s, Swedish settlers to Philadelphia’s outskirts honored Christmas by beseeching their neighbors for dessert and liquor by dressing up, chanting and shooting firearms. The party eventually migrated to New Year’s Day and evolved into a series of neighborhood parades. As immigrants moved to the area from Ireland and Italy, each group added its own cultural flair to the local customs. In 1901, the tradition began in earnest with the first recognized and judged Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. The term “Mummer” is German and means “to costume or masquerade.”
First things first: Spectators are encouraged to leave their cars behind and take public transportation into the city. Those who drive should park in a garage. One of the best places to view the spectacle is from the judging stands near City Hall; tickets must be reserved in advance.
Tickets for bleacher seating at City Hall (15th and Market Streets) are available at the Independence Visitor Center (6th and Market Streets, phlvisitorcenter.com) for $20. Tickets to both Fancy Brigade Finales can be purchased online for $20-$25 at spectratix.com or at the Independence Visitor Center.
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.
Holiday Highlights In Philadelphia
Holiday tradition runs deep in Philadelphia, home of the new Philly Holiday Festival, a seven-week citywide celebration, and the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, offering overnight guests at 38 hotels free parking, two tickets to Jurassic World: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute and more perks, bookable at visitphilly.com.
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