While most of the world celebrates the turning of a calendar year one evening premature, many wise city-dwellers curb their evening libations, knowing that true happiness and good will lie a few hours beyond midnight. And so, every New Year’s morning, thousands of joy-seeking denizens don their warmest winter wear and flock to Broad Street to partake of one of the most particularly Philadelphian of traditions.
Dear Mummers Parade,
I’m not sure if you can hear me.
This might be because you’re not a sentient being with an ability to recognize auditory vibrations and interpret them as coherent thought. Even if you were, it would still be hard to hear me amidst the blaring string band music, belching novelty horns, and boisterous, beer drinking parade goers. But hear me or not, I cannot deny my love for you, Mummers Parade.
You see, while most of the world celebrates the turning of a calendar year one evening premature, many wise city-dwellers curb their evening libations, knowing that true happiness and good will lie a few hours beyond midnight. And so, every New Year’s morning, thousands of joy-seeking denizens don their warmest winter wear and flock to Broad Street to partake of one of the most particularly Philadelphian of traditions.
You would be hard pressed to find any sign of pretension on Broad Street on this day. And this is what I find most endearing about you, Mummers Parade. We Philadelphians are seriously proud of you. You are a uniquely bizarre spectacle, and you are our uniquely bizarre spectacle.
Only in Philadelphia — a city with a serious second-fiddle complex — would you find so many people proudly dancing in the frigid winter air. They beam as they sip a beer or cling to a cup of hot chocolate, watching as hundreds of hard-working, blue-collar South Philadelphians unironically strut by in outlandish, feathery costumes and colorful make-up.
They make champagne toasts with perfect strangers as the mummers play their jaunty tunes on banjos and saxophones, and they step lightly on the sidewalks as grown men dressed as frogs, robots, and pirates do the same in the street under their intricately decorated parasols.
As the day marches on, so do you, Mummers Parade! Brigade after brigade struts past, and likewise, the merriment (and the inebriation) we all experience stumbles onward in the low winter sun. It is sometime in the early afternoon when this merriment becomes too overwhelming, and one’s legs simply cannot help themselves but strut along. This persists through the day and into the night.
When the sun finally does set and the last of the fancies have gone by, any amateur might assume the festival is complete. On the contrary! That street sweeper humming down Broad Street, brushing up a cacophonic medley of discarded bottles, cans, streamers, and noisemakers, only signifies intermission!
So after a short respite from the fun — usually involving pizza — a rendezvous at the Mummers Museum at 2nd and Washington commences part two of this bacchanal. And this is where you really let your metaphorical hair down, MP. (Can I call you MP?)
Fueled by a mutual love of our city and any number of cheap cans of beer, celebrators from all over Philly congregate under the amber glow of Pennsport’s streetlights to continue in this increasingly erratic procession. It is here where your most wonderful quality comes to light, MP, and the true nature of this reliably misunderstood city of working class people is revealed. As the drastically-more-narrow-than-Broad-Street “Two Street” meets a sea of now inebriated but jovial Mummer-ers, all facets of physical space combine, and mummers, audience, residents, bars, clubs, cats, dogs, etc. all become one large, all-inclusive party.
As the mummers continue their show southward, hordes of happy followers march alongside. There is no shortage of hospitality in South Philadelphia, as locals open their doors, expanding the carnival just a little bit wider. The sidewalks are no longer a boundary on Two Street, and every person one meets will be greeted with a warm smile and a cold drink.
You are a real-life materialization of utter joy and happiness, MP, and that dazed and bewildered feeling of bliss is transferred to all of those in your presence. I cannot say I’ve ever seen you end, Mummers Parade. No person has the strength to maintain this heightened level of ecstasy without eventually succumbing to a much needed — though much resisted — slumber. In my mind, you don’t ever end. You simply march on, passing through space and time as effervescent onlookers smile and strut alongside for all of eternity.
So thank you, Mummers Parade! Thank you for making Philadelphia on January 1st the best place to be in the world, and in the plane of all that exists. I love you, Mummers Parade.
Lance Saunders is an architect, a good listener, and a human. Also, he like to write things sometimes. And draw. He draws too.
Find this and other such love notes on the blog Philly Love Notes.