Lamenting Mummers’ rerouting, applauding South Philly spirit

 The Jesters New Year's Association make their way to Broad and Oregon in South Philadelphia on January 1, 2015 (Marilyn D'Angelo/WHYY)

The Jesters New Year's Association make their way to Broad and Oregon in South Philadelphia on January 1, 2015 (Marilyn D'Angelo/WHYY)

New Year’s Day looked a whole lot different this year. It felt different, too.

With the Mummers Parade starting up at City Hall, the neighborhoods bordering the traditional parade route, along South Broad Street, were left without a purpose.

For 100 years, the Mummers Parade began in South Philadelphia — making us the keepers of the tradition and making the Mummers an integral part of our spirit.

The brigades would begin lining up early in the morning on New Year’s Day in a flurry of sequins and feathers, banjos and box trucks. Umbrellas, as far as the eye could see. Families would come in from out of town to touch base and head out to Broad Street where, in those morning hours, the parade was just getting started.

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They’d head back to the house for a daylong feast — roast pork and another round of spirits — and the most precious of New Year’s Day necessities — a clean bathroom.

None of that happened this year in South Philadelphia. When the decision to move the parade came down from on high, we all knew how it would play out. Without a parade, the centerpiece of our celebration, there was no need to meet, to gather on the street, or in our homes.

The starting location of a century-old parade isn’t arbitrary. And neither are the traditions that have grown from it. It’s part of what keeps our neighborhood spirit alive. And keeps generations coming back, to the homes, corners and parade route we all love.

I walked up to Broad and Oregon this New Year’s Day. There were rumors that a couple of the Comic Brigades would break the barricade at Washington Avenue and continue all the way down into South Philly.

When I got there, I noticed a gathering at the corner. The light changed, and they didn’t cross the street. I got closer and realized, they were protesters! Older ladies, men and women, lifelong South Philly residents whose annual traditions had been trumped for the city’s transplant populace and the allure of “better” crowds.

They held up signs asking to “Bring Back Our Parade,” and drivers beeped in support as the small, but dedicated group of protesters stood up for tradition.

Thankfully, it was not in vain.

Over the horizon, just north on Broad Street, a group of Mummers made its way toward Broad and Oregon. The Jesters New Years Association had marched their way home and would keep the tradition alive. Their triumphant approach blocked traffic and brought mummery to South Philly’s most loyal parade lovers.

The crowd dispersed, following the Jesters back to their clubhouse. To a latecomer, there’d be no sign of what occurred on Broad and Oregon that New Year’s afternoon.

For me, the disappointment of losing something that means so much to so many was only alleviated later that night. A new twist to New Year’s — roving brigades making their way through South Philadelphia, unauthorized and unescorted.

I joined up with a group of Mad Hatters who somehow knew just what we needed. A brass band and some wenches, parading through streets the official route bypassed. Snaking down Moyamensing past Wolf and Snyder, all the way to Washington and down to Second Street for the final strut of the year.

The spirit of the New Year was alive on Second Street. And while some South Philly traditions were callously trampled, others stood sure and strong.

A bittersweet ending to Jan. 1, 2015.


Biographical Note: Marilyn is a native South Philadelphian. She has attended the parade on Broad Street her entire life and also hosts one heck of a New Years Day event. Maybe next year.


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