The Mummers Parade, held every New Year’s Day, is as unique to Philadelphia as the cheesesteak. And for Bob Shannon, president of the Philadelphia Mummers Association, it’s a family affair.
Shannon says, “My brother and I were brought into the craft of Mummery by my father; my Dad was in Quaker City String Band for over 67 years. It gave us the opportunity to be one-on-one with my Dad.”
And Shannon isn’t alone. Many families have been doing this for generations. “That’s something that we hang our hat on and are very proud of: that we can say that we are a family tradition. And still today we have families who have three generations in Quaker City. At one time we had four generations that performed in Quaker City String Band.”
The 2011 Mummers Parade promises to be the most fan-friendly in its 110-year history with bleachers going up along Broad Street.
The unforgettable, only-in-Philadelphia New Year’s Day celebration is a family-friendly affair, with enough glamour, music and humor to entertain first-timers to never-miss-a-year fans. This year, families are encouraged to bring their kids to the parade’s six performance zones along Broad Street for excellent views of the same animated routines the judges see.
The parade steps off at 10 am at Broad and Washington and proceeds to City Hall. There is a ticketed competition for the Fancy Brigades at the Pennsylvania Convention Center at noon and 5 pm.
“The Mummers Parade is world renowned and a beloved tradition for our City,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “There are 10,000 amateur performers-men, women and children who march and there are thousands more who build the floats, create the costumes and raise money all year long to make this parade possible. This is a terrific showcase of Philadelphia’s rich history and the teamwork, and creativity of our people.”
What’s a Mummer?
The tradition is a mix of New Year’s Eve celebrations, but Shannon says Mummery began when immigrants in South Philadelphia brought cakes and spirits to shut-ins. In fact, that’s how the famous Mummer strut (also known as a cake walk) originated.
Who are the Mummers?
The first Mummers Parade had only two divisions: Fancy Dress and Comic Brigades. Those two still exist, but the modern Mummer’s Parade has four different divisions. They include the Comics, The Wench Brigade, The Fancies (or the Fancy Brigades) and the String Bands.
The Comics: These are the jokesters, lampooning politicians or celebrities with satirical skits.
The Wenches: Shannon says, “(The Wenches) sometimes wear the old-time dress and some of them wear tuxedo tops or something like that. They’re the original Mummers. They’re the ones that did the cake walks. They’re the ones that took the spirits and the cakes to all the people who were shut in.”
The Facies: You simply can’t miss the Fancies. “They’re the ones with the big, elaborate capes,” Shannon says. “At one time some of the capes would stretch for blocks.”
Where to watch: There are several designated performance areas:
-Broad and Shunk Streets
-Broad and Washington Avenue
-Broad and Pine
-Broad and Chestnut outside the Philadelphia Union League
-City Hall – Shannon says this is the best place to watch. “You’re right there in the Mecca of it. We perform right in front of the judges and that is where you have to be your best.”
Want to be a Mummer?
Every group has an application process. Go to www.phillymummers.com to find a Mummers organization you want to join.
Tickets for the 2011 show are on sale now!
For the City Hall Grand Stand performance zone at the Fairmount Park Welcome Center, 16th and JFK Boulevard, 215-683-0246 or the Independence Visitor Center on 6th and Market, 215-965-7676
Mummers Fancy Brigade at the Convention Center
Mummer fans looking for an even more comfy and convenient way to enjoy the festivities can head to the Mummers Fancy Brigade at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The guaranteed reserved seating indoor showcase is presented by the Mummers Fancy Brigade Association. It has been described as a cross between a Broadway Show and Mardi Gras. Visitors have two chances to see the show on New Year’s Day; a family a show at Noon and another show at 5 pm. For ticket information, visit www.comcasttix.com or call 1-800-298-4200. For more information check out www.fancybrigade.com.
Reported by: Timothy McLaughlin, KYW Newsradio; Ben Bowens, CBS 3