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Cat in the Stax: The Mummers Parade

As Falvey’s Cat in the Stax, Rebecca writes articles covering a broad range of topics, from academics to hobbies to random events. All the while highlighting how Falvey Library can enhance your Villanova experience!

Finals week has officially begun! Good luck to everyone with finals today. I hope those of you who don’t have tests until later feel prepared and are ready to crush these exams!

Since you all are probably focused on studying and writing papers, I thought I’d keep this week’s article light and fun by talking about an annual Philly tradition: The Mummers Parade.

Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The Mummers Parade is America’s oldest folk parade, running for over 120 years. Every year, 10,000 Philadelphians of all ages dress up in festive and colorfully lavish costumes and dance their way down Broad Street on New Year’s Day. Along the parade route, different Mummers groups stop to perform in a friendly yet fierce competition for bragging rights.

Mummers have ancient roots in many areas of the world, with traces in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Europe. Mummers plays were popular pastimes for poor Egyptians, and they typically featured big masks and pantomime entertainment. In Rome, laborers celebrated the festival of Saturnalia by marching with masks and satirizing current issues. Mummers in medieval Europe would parade the streets and enter people’s houses to perform a (usually satirical) skit before begging for food and drink.

Mummery was brought to Philadelphia by Swedish immigrants in the late seventeenth century. However, other European immigrants quickly added their own cultures to the tradition. Mummery was a way to celebrate Christmas; people would dress up and march through their neighborhoods, perform a skit or poem, shoot firearms, and ask their neighbors for food and drink. The first official Mummers Parade occurred in 1901, and it has been a Philadelphia tradition ever since.

Group of Mummers

Photo from 2019 Mummers Parade by Julia Hatmaker

The Mummers in the parade are comprised of over 40 organized clubs which are grouped into five divisions: Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies,  Fancy Brigades, and String Bands. The Comics are the original division, and they perform skits that satirize pop culture and current events, which can include social and political issues. The Wench Brigades group is an offshoot of the Comics, and Mummers in this division wear colorful dresses and bloomers, carry umbrellas or parasols, and are accompanied by live Brass Bands. The Fancies impress parade-goers with glamorous costumes that include large back-pieces and frame suits. This division is judged not on performance but on their costumes. The Fancy Brigades are then an offshoot of the Fancy division that perform short Broadway-esque shows with props, scenery, and choreography. Finally, the String Bands are made up of amateur musicians playing banjos, saxophones, violins, accordions, and various percussion instruments (including the glockenspiel).

This year’s Mummers Parade will take place on January 1, 2024, beginning at City Hall and ending at Washington Avenue. Click here to buy tickets if you are interested in attending this historic and festive event.

Rebecca Amrick

Rebecca Amrick is a first year graduate student in the English Department and a Graduate Assistant at Falvey Library.

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Last Modified: December 13, 2023

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