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The Philadelphia Mummers Parade occurs annually on New Year’s Day. The parade is a tradition that started in 1901, but mummers in Philadelphia, and around the world, have roots that stretch throughout history. Mummers are people who enjoy getting dressed up in costumes to dance, sing, and put on skits. This has roots as far back as ancient Egypt, however, it is best documented during the medieval period. In Europe, mummer’s plays were a popular pastime for the poor, with a wide variety of plays that were characterized by big masks and pantomime traditions. European mummers would also parade around the streets, enter random houses, and play dice in silence. As time went on, these mummers would beg for food and drink after performing a skit or poem.
In the late 17th century, Swedish immigrants settled down in Philadelphia. Mummers became a celebration of the rivalry between Philly neighborhoods and could get very rowdy as they reveled through the streets. Mummers would go into homes, cause a ruckus, and demand soup and alcohol before they left. Some shot guns into the street. In the 1860's, this began to take the shape of the parade that is known today, and in 1901, the City of Philadelphia got involved. This was the year of the first official Philadelphia Mummers Parade and with the cities involvement, there were no more guns allowed and the ruckus and commotion were toned down.
With the involvement of the city came the designation that participants must belong to a club to register for the parade. These clubs can compete for prizes in 5 categories; comics, wench brigades, fancy division, fancy brigades, and string bands. Clubs plan and rehearse all year to prepare for the parade. Mummers still go into people’s homes to beg for soup and drinks, but only if the owners leave the door open as an invitation. This parade also has a history of mocking minorities and using blackface, and though this has been banned since the 1960's, it still appears every so often in the parade as of 2020.
After 2008, when the city of Philadelphia had budgetary problems, the Mummer Parade had to find other means to fund the parade. They began a, “Save the Mummers Fund,” and companies such as Southwest Airlines and SugarHouse Casino have helped fund the parade throughout the years. Interestingly, in 2009, Philly natives Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael, known as the Bacon Brothers, recorded a version of, “New Year’s Day,” and proceeds from the sale of the song went to the Save the Mummers Fund.