Philadelphia Mummers Parade

Philadelphia Mummers Parade
The Philadelphia Mummers Parade is arguably the oldest folk festival in the United States. It takes place each New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The parade stems from the mummers’ play tradition brought to the American continent by European immigrants.

Mummers’ plays are folk plays traditionally performed by amateur troupes, usually all-male. The word “mummer” is probably derived from Early New High German where it means “a disguised person”. The mummers’ play tradition was brought to America in the 17th century, it has English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, Swedish and Finnish roots. Mummers’ plays were part of working class street celebrations around Christmas in 18th-century Philadelphia. Mummers painted their faces black and went door to door, shooting and shouting.

An 1808 law prohibited masquerades, declaring them common nuisances. Masquerade participants were subject to fine and imprisonment, but the law was never successfully enforced. It was repealed in 1856, but the city government did not cease its attempts to rein in troublemakers and suppress the custom.

However, the tradition was too popular to do anything about it. So the city government resorted to a policy of co-option. Participants were required to join organized groups. Each group has a leader who applied for permits and was responsible for the behavior of other participants.

The first official, city-sanctioned parade in Philadelphia was held on January 1, 1901. Since then, it has become one of the largest holiday parades in the United States, featuring moveable scenery and elaborate costumes.

Today’s Philadelphia Mummers Parade features more than 10,000 participants split into five distinct divisions: Comics, Fancies, Fancy Brigades, Wench Brigades, and String Bands. All divisions except String Bands focus their performance around costuming and dance routines, while String Bands provide elaborate music performances.

The Comics are the closest to the traditional mummers, this division is known for its clowns, costumed characters and humorous skits. The Fancy Division is the beauty highlight of the parade, while String Bands are the parade’s musical highlight. The Wench Brigade Division is an offshoot of the Comic Division, featuring costumed characters known as Wenches. The Fancy Brigades used to be part of the Fancy Division.

Philadelphia Mummers Parade

Photo by Vladimir




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