Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where nothing is new under the Sun ... except the year, which turns over every 365 days (and sometimes 366).
Does it seem at all weird to you that adult folks of both genders would dress up in odd clothing and go wandering around on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day? Well gosh, I doubt if there's anything more ancient than dressing up in costumes, except maybe singing and drumming.
Actually I put this question to some extremely, extremely bored deities, and They told me that putting on masks is something that people have been doing for 20,000 years. Imagine that! No, wait. Why would that be hard to imagine?
When we put on masks, costumes, or odd clothing, to parade from house to house, or from street to street, we are removing ourselves from ... well, from ourselves. For one short moment in time, we're someone else, or at least we have license to behave like someone else. This is powerful stuff. Make no mistake, this is some ancient and holy behavior.
The tradition known as "Mumming" comes from Ireland. It is also found in Newfoundland. The scrappy little city of Hagerstown, Maryland has a Mummers Parade every year on Halloween. Irish Mummers were known to go from door to door, in costume. They weren't exactly mum -- they would sing songs or recite rhymes. The tradition is associated with the solstice, but for me it's not a reach to imagine that it was also possibly practiced at Halloween, which after all is the Celtic New Year.
EXHIBIT A: Anne at Philadelphia Mummer's Parade, on Right, and It Was Cold AF That Year
The city of Philadelphia has been holding a Mummer's Parade for more than 100 years. In their wisdom, the Town Fathers of yesteryear decided that having a parade would be a good way to cut down on drunken, rowdy behavior at the New Year. Well ... yes, and no. You see, the costumes give us license to be rowdy. They just do. It's organized rowdiness, but when you get 30,000 people involved in something, in costume, you are going to get some mayhem.
The Philadelphia Mummers also have a storied tradition of political incorrectness. This I will not deny. The parade judges had to outlaw blackface (way before my time), and last year a club got all kinds of heat for doing a Mexican theme in brownface. (Personally I thought it was a warm nod to Mexico, not at all nasty ... but the snobby Vaudvillains begged to differ.) My club doesn't go in for political incorrectness, but we do blur the line for what passes for "family entertainment." Yeah, some years that line is wayyyyy blurry. Okay, refer to the above. Can we get out of ourselves for a day? Can we be outrageous without offending any racial group or hurting anyone physically? Yes, we do it all the time.
Our routine this year features George Washington and Lord Cornwallis facing off in a dance contest, doing the whip and nae nae. If you don't think that's funny, you might be on the wrong blog. There's nothing I would rather do at this very moment in time than mock our nation's rocky birth pangs.
As I write this on New Year's Eve, I would be remiss if I didn't note that I have lacked energy for a few months now, and especially since the election. This morning I bustled around, assembling my Under Armor, Mardi Gras beads (red, white, and blue), and foot warmers. Then, suddenly, I felt like moving. I stacked firewood for an hour and did yard work for another hour. Wow, a body in motion!
If the Philadelphia Mummers Parade makes me a body in motion, I can't be anything but grateful. It's a comfort to know that I can leap outside myself, shake and shimmy, and put all that real stuff away for a day.
There's a link in the post below for a live stream of the 2017 parade. My club will be performing for the judges some time between 10:00 and noon, EST. After that you get a whole afternoon of amazing string bands. Their routines, costumes, and props are amazing.
Oh yeah, one more thing: We Mummers don't call our costumes by that name. They are suits, or dresses.
Happy New Year!