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Friday, December 23, 2011

History of the Mummer’s Day Parade

New Years Day is just around the corner. The day is the most exciting holiday of the year for many, especially for thousands of Philadelphia area Mummer’s and their fans. New Year’s Day is the annual culmination to a Mummer’s entire year of meticulous preparations. Finally, on this day each year, a mummer finally gets to strut his or her stuff in their handmade costume.


For nearly 200 years the city of Philadelphia has looked forward to watching the Mummer’s each year. Now, television viewers around the look forward to watching the Mummer’s parade on New Year’s Day, many having incorporated viewing parties for the event into their own family traditions.


On the surface, the Mummer’s Parade, is simply a festive costume rich celebration, which is of course, candy to the spectator’s eye, but to many, the annual celebration means much more. The parade’s roots can be traced back to mid-17th century roots. The event is related to the Mummers Play tradition from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but takes route in many other cultures as well.


Settlers from Sweden brought the custom of visiting neighbors on “Second Day Christmas” with them to Tinicum, near Philadelphia, eventually growing the Celebration into an event which extended into New Year’s Day for which participants wore elaborately festive costumes. Although “masquerades” and “masquerade balls” were declared common nuisances” in 1808, that didn’t stop those who wanted to carry on the Mummer’s tradition.


By 1840, the first documented competitive Mummer’s “club” or “chain gang” was formed, and later, the New Year’s Day parade also become the arena for a large costume competition. Local clubs, now called “New Years Associations” now compete in one of four categories (Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades). Elaborate costumes and scenery are prepared by the clubs by hand for each big day. Fans can now watch the parade along the streets of center city Philadelphia or on WPHL-TV, WGN America, and WGN-TV.

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