Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mummer Mayhem!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Never Bored On New Year's Day, because They Come to Philadelphia!" I'm your hostess, Annie of the City of Brotherly Love! There are only six El stops between my house and Market Street, so even though I'm across the river, I sort of feel all Philly-Nilly at times.

Every year on New Year's Day, we Philadelphians get a real treat in the form of the eight-hour-long Mummer's Parade. There's no easy way to describe this satin Saturnalia, this feathered frolic, except to say that many of the thousands of people who participate in it devote their entire lives and fortunes to it. I didn't check YouTube, but if you've never seen a Philadelphia Mummer's Parade, I'm sure there are snippets of it here and there.

I'm a Mummer junkie. Forget doing anything else on New Year's Day. I sit in my lounge chair and watch the parade until the last feathered fanatic struts off in search of his celebratory beer.

And OMBG, this year's parade will have me on the edge of my seat! .... Well, not really. I usually loll like a contented cat. Let's just say I've already picked some favorites in the string band competition.

The Philadelphia Daily News printed synopses of each string band's theme in today's newspaper. No one consulted me, mind you, before the themes were chosen -- but I am intrigued.

Here's the summary for the Woodland String Band (finished in 8th place last year):

"Woodland takes you to a land of wizardry, mysticism, sorcery, witchcraft, and enchantment, led by the Grand Wizard, AL A. KAZAM. Harry Potter serves as the guide as Mummers fans watch and listen to familiar, fantastic sights and sounds played by musical wizards, witches, sorcerers, and druids."

Granted, this performance is likely to reek of stereotype in every conceivable way, but I must say I am interested to see a Philadelphia Mummer take on druids.

Needless to say, Woodland was Anne's early favorite until she read on.

Here's the summary for the South Philadelphia String Band (finished in 3rd place last year):

"Embark on a majestic journey of Native America, where great warriors rule. Experience a celebratory powwow, glide along a mystical canoe down the Shenandoah, witness the majesty of the sacred white-buffalo skull, feel the force of a thundering herd stampeding through the village, and be dazzled by the arrival of the mighty and wrathful Thunderbird."

The capitalization is theirs, not mine.

Okay, by now it should be clear to you that the Philadelphia Mummers aren't exactly subtle or politically correct. But who could resist the prospect of a parade that will include both Druids and a Thunderbird?

The forecast calls for rain. I wonder how that will affect the Thunderbird. It might suspend its wrath and go curl up in a pine tree with its fellow Thunderbirds.

Go ahead and spend your New Year's Day making fancy dinners and resolutions. As for me and my house, we will watch the Mummers!


Tlachtga said...

Politically correct? I'm just grateful they don't do blackface anymore!

That aside, can't wait for the Mummers.

yellowdoggranny said...

how terrific..

Br. Pax said...

Now this looks great!!! What fun!

Tlachtga said...

It really is impressive--and really, probably the only place in the US that still practices the old mumming tradition.

"Saturnalia" is right--there's something very old about Philly's mumming tradition, routed in the old way of celebrating the time of year, like the Wren Boys in Ireland.

It's things like this that actually make me feel really lucky to have grown up in Philly.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I think you should wear your Sacred Thunderbird costume while sitting in your lounge chair. Can't wait to hear your review of the Mummers parade!

Anne Johnson said...

Yes, this is definitely the Wren Boys writ large. The BBC did a documentary on Mumming, and they included our Philly parade, tying it directly to the old Irish and Scottish traditions. (Which, IMHO, probably stems from Celtic New Year traditions and just moved its date.)

Servitor Lucem said...

The first one reminds me a bit of Mardi Gras, although not quite as artfully done as some of those. I also think that there are definite shared roots between this and Mardi Gras.
For some great costumes, though, check out the Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu Club.

Frumpzilla said...

Dear Bloggess Johnson,

I arrived here this morning at the behest of my hero, Jesus General, and I must say I'm thrilled to pieces.

As a result, I have spent far more time perusing your offerings than is my usual habit on my customary blog drive-by. Your word-wrangling is wry, intriguing and accomplished. Brava, dear heart!

Cutting right to the chase, I should like very much to link to your little curiosity shoppe for two reasons: a) so that I can find my way back and b) so that I can direct my own small battalion of followers (trolls and all, unfortunately) to visit and marvel for themselves.

Your gods may even find my gang momentarily amusing (no promises, though).

BTW, I myself am a New Hoper so I appreciate where you're coming from (mummers and all). As to the Jersey progeny, buck up m'dear, things could be worse.

Best regards,

Anne Johnson said...

Dear Frumpzilla,

I can be reached at

Fair warning that trolls are welcome so long as they don't insult my regulars. They can have at me with reckless abandon!