Ah, the Mummers. The annual New Year’s Day parade where thousands of these bedazzled and boisterous folks strut down Broad Street has been taking place since 1901, making it the oldest folk parade in the country and cultural experience iconic to Philadelphia.
Today, Mummers are locals who don bright, intricate, and colorful costumes and perform throughout the year as part of one of five divisions: The Comic, The Fancy, the Wench Brigade, the String Band and the Fancy Brigade. They all come together on New Year’s Day during the Mummers Parade, when they make their way down Broad Street and perform for judges and thousands of parade-goers.
But the history of the Mummers stretches back way before it came to Philly. The word Mummer can be traced to Greek mythology, according to the Mummers Museum, which states, “Momus was the personification of satire, mockery and censure.”
Over the course of the Mummers’s long history, there have been many ups and downs. In the 1800s, the act of masquerading was banned in Philadelphia. The ban of firearms during the parade followed decades later. And most recently, some Mummers went through sensitivity training with the city after its performances were criticized as offensive and inappropriate.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying the spectacle and tradition that is the Mummers here in Philly. With New Year’s Day just around the corner, let’s take a trip down memory lane to see just how long the Mummers have been putting on a show.