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Secrets of the City: Philly

Revealing all the untold stories of Philly. From all the best local spots to our love for a good parade, check out the stories that make the City of Brotherly Love unique!

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New Year’s Day in Philly

Do your New Years’ plans involve music, feathers, sequins, and revelry? No? In that case, you need to make your way to Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade!

The biggest party in Philly (aside from an Eagles Championship parade) is the Mummers Parade. It happens each New Year’s Day, when costumed revelers strut down Broad Street, one of Center City’s Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares.

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Forget Mardi Gras. This parade serves up all the same excitement right in every Philadelphian’s backyard. The atmosphere at the day-long Mummers Parade is full of festive costumes, music, dancing, and tongue-in-cheek fun. Tens of thousands of people march in the parade, and even more folks line the streets to witness the spectacle and join the party.

You might be asking…what is a Mummer? Well, Mummers come in a few varieties, or brigades. First there are the Comics, whose goal it is to satirize the events of the year. Then there are the Fancies, who focus their efforts on eye-catching costumes and elaborate floats. And finally there are the String Bands, who aim to impress with fabulous music. The common thread is that a Mummer, regardless of type, will be wearing a funny or fabulous costume and will be in a celebratory mood.

Throughout the day, the various Mummers brigades compete for prize money and bragging rights. Each performance is designed to entertain. Common themes include honoring our troops, celebrating family and culture, and even poking fun at recent trends. Most performances are seasoned with over-the-top exaggeration and humor.

A New Year’s Day institution in Philly, the Mummers Day parade has involved generations of families since 1901, when the first “official” march down Broad Street took place. But the time-honored tradition of mummery is far older than many realize. Some historians claim that it dates back to ancient Greece, where parades were held to honor Momus, the mythical personification of satire. Others trace the term to the late Middle English word mommer and the Old French word momeur. Both words refer to miming, mockery and folk-play, and they suggest another possible origin of the tradition.

Closer to home, colonial Philadelphia frequently hosted mummer-like shenanigans. The Meschianza was one particularly extravagant celebration held for General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, on their departure from North America. In September 1777, the midst of the Revolutionary War, General Howe’s army took control of Philadelphia and oversaw the British occupation through 1778. After General Howe led such a momentous victory, the British made sure to see him off in style. His multiple-day bon voyage party featured a regatta of decorated boats that cruised down the Delaware river to the main party site. Their arrival touched off a series of concerts and festivities that included dancing, costumes, fireworks, and a mock jousting match between fictional combatants. This colonial bonanza featured all the elements of the present-day Mummers Parade, from a convoy of fancy floats to music, dancing, costumes, mockery, and celebration.

The Mummers Parade is certainly colorful, and mummery’s origins remain colorfully debated. However, there is one thing on which all Philadelphians will agree: the Mummer’s Parade is always an unforgettable time.

We hope to see you there!

Written by Jenna, a local expert guide for Philly Crawling. A recent escapee from the corporate world, she enjoys volunteering and spending time with family. She’s a pet lover, self-proclaimed beer geek, travel enthusiast, and aspiring foodie. Join Jenna for history and beer on Philly Crawling’s Liberty Pub Crawl.