PHILADELPHIA, PA --New Year’s Day is about celebrating, and there’s no better place to fete 2020 than at Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade, a tradition dating back to 1901 in which 10,000 men, women and children dressed in colorfully lavish costumes twirl, sashay, pirouette and strut down one of the city’s main streets.
A carnival-like atmosphere welcomes revelers who stop by at the last minute—but a little advance preparation helps onlookers get the best views of the spectacle. Better still, spending the night in the city ensures an early start to the day. The Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package and other packages are available here. A complete guide to New Year’s and the entire holiday season is available here.
Mummers are people of all ages who belong to more than 40 organized clubs that participate in the parade. The clubs, split into five categories—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. For many Philadelphia-area families, Mummery is a tradition that spans generations. phillymummers.com
The day’s highlight is the parade itself, which begins with performances for audience members seated in bleachers near Philadelphia City Hall and marches south along Broad Street to Washington Avenue. Each division knows its role: The Comics and Wench Brigades satirize issues, institutions and people; the Fancies impress with glamorous outfits that rival those of royalty; the String Bands 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 who are based in South Philadelphia head down to 2nd Street—known as “Two Street”—past Washington Avenue 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. Those groups put on two elaborate Broadway-style performances for ticket holders at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the afternoon.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. The shorter route lends itself to denser crowds, so for sidewalk seating, fans should arrive early to claim their spots. Fancy Brigades hold two ticketed competitions at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, at 11:30 a.m. and at 5 p.m. (Ticket information below.) The revelry then moves to Two Street for a raucous bash that goes late into the night.
The parade begins at Philadelphia City Hall, with judging taking place at 15th and Market Streets. The procession then heads south on Broad Street to its end point at Washington Avenue. Once the Fancy Brigades finish the entire route, they head to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their performances.
Those who arrive early will be rewarded with a sneak peek of Mummers doing run-throughs of their routines as they line up on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 16th and 22nd Streets. Here, spectators can also meet the performers, get a close-up look at the spectacular costumes and snap Instagram-worthy selfies with the marchers. Those without bleacher seats or sidewalk stamina often head to the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, conveniently situated along the parade route, which opens for a free, family-friendly festival—cocoa, live music and games included—each January 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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. As immigrants moved to the area from Ireland and Italy, each group added its own cultural flair to the local customs. In 1901, the tradition began in earnest with the first recognized and judged Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. The term “Mummer” is German and means “to costume or masquerade.”
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; tickets must be reserved in advance.
Tickets for bleacher seating at City Hall (15th and Market Streets) are available at the Independence Visitor Center (599 Market Street, phlvisitorcenter.com) for $20. Tickets for the Fancy Brigade Finales are $38 for the 11:30 a.m. show and $28 for the 5 p.m. show. They can be purchased online at fancybrigade.com or in person at the Independence Visitor Center.
But Wait. There’s More:
Each year, the Mummers Fancy Brigades put the finishing touches on their performances during MummersFest in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The $5 admission to the four-day, family-friendly event includes dressing up in authentic Mummers gear, make-and-take crafts, backstage tours of elaborate props and floats—and a sneak peek at rehearsals. MummersFest runs December 28-31.
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