Monday, December 31, 2018

Why the Mummers Parade Survives

I think this is the 118th year that Philadelphia has hosted a Mummers Parade on January 1.

Like many events in big cities, this parade began as a civic effort to curb public drunkenness on New Year's Day. But in this era of warm and cozy bars and restaurants, open museums, and a less tolerant attitude toward public drunkenness, why does this parade survive?

Mind you, as many as 10,000 people take part in the parade. And there's a simple formula to its continued existence (even though Philly's civic leaders would rather it just fizzle out).

Have you ever gone to a family reunion? My dad's people used to have them every year on the Fourth of July, in a little creek-side park near Chaneysville, PA. Upwards of a hundred people would come, and the event consisted of eating, talking, playing horseshoes, a few kid's games, and ... not much else. And it lasted all day.

Now imagine if your family reunion had a goal in mind: marching in a parade as a family, with matching costumes and a theme. Yes, you would need to get together a little more often to practice and make costumes and props. But it's your family. You wouldn't really mind (mostly), would you?

Mumming persists in Philadelphia because many Mummer groups are basically big, extended families whose members have been in parades since they were tots. My club, the Two Street Stompers, was formed by a family whose parents, aunts, and uncles had marched with other clubs. Some members of the Stompers who are well into mid-life have been marching on Broad Street since they were too young to walk. (They were carried.) Now they are carrying their kids.

Every year at our Two Street Stompers practice, there are young parents bringing their babies and toddlers for the first time. And there are also esteemed elders -- some in their 90s -- who come to watch, and then stand up to strut a little at the end. It's a touching sight.

The number of participants in the Mummers Parade has dwindled over the past 20 years or so. Still, if you go to a Mummers practice -- any club of any size -- you'll see multiple generations of the same family, carrying on a family tradition. That's what keeps this thing going.

As far as curbing public drunkenness goes, well, emmm ... People are going to imbibe on a holiday, no matter what else they are doing. Judge not, lest ye be judged.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

It's true grassroots culture -- made by the people, for the people! Have fun tomorrow, Anne!

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Savannah said...

I am new to the area, and I had never heard of Mummer groups. I found this to be so fascinating! Thank you so much for your post. I will be back over and over again.