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Mummers 101: The Scoop On Philly's New Year's Day Tradition
Tips For Watching 10,000 Men & Women Twirl, Sashay & Strut Up Broad Street
New Year’s Day is about celebrating, and there’s no better place to fete than at the Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade, a 113-year-old tradition in which 10,000 men and women dressed in colorfully lavish costumes twirl, sashay, pirouette and strut up one of the city’s main streets. An unforgettably wild ritual, the parade and subsequent performances are all family friendly, yet exciting enough to entertain everybody. While a carnival-like atmosphere welcomes anyone who decides to stop by at the last minute, a little advance preparation guarantees a clear view. Better still, spending the night in the city ensures an early start to the day. Hotel packages are available at visitphilly.com.
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 divisions—Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands and 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.
The day’s highlight is the parade itself, which begins in South Philadelphia in the morning and winds its way up Broad Street to City Hall around dusk. Each division knows its role: the Comics and Wench Brigades satirize issues, institutions and people; the Fancies impress with their 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, who put on two elaborate Broadway-style performances for ticket holders at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the afternoon.
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, but tickets must be reserved in advance. (See below.) For sidewalk seating, arrive early and set up near a performance location, where marching String Bands perform. These spots are at the intersections of Broad Street and the following streets: Sansom Street (Union League), Pine Street, Washington Avenue and Shunk Street.
The various divisions enter the Parade at different locations. The Comics and Wench Brigades enter at Washington Avenue, the Fancies start at Broad and Snyder Streets and the String Bands at Broad Street and Oregon Avenue. Fancy Brigades start at Oregon Avenue in the mid-afternoon but only get as far as Washington Avenue, where they get on buses and head for the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Tip: Because each division starts at a different intersection, the Broad Street and Washington Avenue intersection is the only place to see all the Mummer groups.)
The parade begins in the morning and ends sometime before 6:00 p.m. Fancy Brigades hold two ticketed competitions at the Pennsylvania Convention Center—the first at 12:00 noon and the second at 5:00 p.m. (See below for ticket information.) 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; then, as immigrants moved to the area from Ireland and Italy, each group added their own cultural flair to the local customs. In 1901, the tradition began in earnest with the first recognized and judged Mummers Parade. The term “Mummer” is German and means “to costume or masquerade.”
Tickets for bleacher seating at City Hall (15th & Market Streets) are available at the Independence Visitor Center (6th & Market Streets, (215) 965-7676) for $19. Tickets to both Fancy Brigade Finales can be purchased online for $12-$17 at comcasttix.com.
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality.
For more information about travel to Philadelphia, visit visitphilly.com or uwishunu.com, where you can build itineraries; search event calendars; see photos and videos; view interactive maps; sign up for newsletters; listen to HearPhilly, an online radio station about what to see and do in the region; book hotel reservations and more. Or, call the Independence Visitor Center, located in Historic Philadelphia, at (800) 537-7676.
- Cara Schneider, (215) 599-0789
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One of the highlights of the week is always the sparkling, feathered and festive Mummers Parade, a day-long extravaganza that sends thousands of men, women...
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This is a Delaware River Waterfront Corporation press release.
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The following itinerary is available on gophila.com/holidays.
LOCATION: Center City, Penn’s Landing, South Philly, Kennett Square
TRANSPORTATION: Foot, taxi or car
DURATION: Two days and two nights
Holiday time is family time, but too often, busy schedules and bustling activities have everyone running in different directions. In 2008, start a new holiday tradition. Head to Philadelphia for a weekend of memory-making, affordable family fun. With the Philly Overnight® Hotel Package available at more than 30 hotels, parking is free so you’re already up to $75 ahead.
A Show of Lights, Please
5:00 p.m. – After you’ve checked
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*Events are free unless otherwise noted.
- Thanksgiving Day Parade – Ring in the season during a grand parade featuring marching bands, performances and