The Mummers strutted through Philly’s deep freeze

Listen 2:24

It was 12 degrees outside in Philadelphia, but the Mummers were undeterred.

The bedecked, bedazzled revelers paraded through the streets of Center City from early Monday morning into the afternoon, despite bitterly cold temperatures dipping into the low teens and a wind chill hovering around zero.

Some dressed in layers and danced and strutted to stave off the cold. Others imbibed to keep warm.

“We’re drinkin’ and struttin’,” said John McDevitt, downing a Miller Lite outside a Center City pizzeria just before 10 a.m.

McDevitt and two friends — all members of the O’Malley wench brigade — wore gold costumes decorated with green frills. Their faces were painted, and they carried small umbrellas.

“We’re Outback. It’s like an Australian theme,” he said.

The 116-year-old parade almost didn’t happen this year.

City officials and some Mummers divisions were concerned that the cold might pose a health risk to performers and attendees. They also worried it could be difficult for the musical brigades to play their horns and banjos.

But the show went on. Comics, wenches, fancies, and string bands strutted down Broad Street after all.

The light early-morning crowd grew in size as the day went on. Hundreds of people lined Center City streets to see all manner of mummery — pirates, scarecrows, vampires, aliens.

Many people near the performance area at Sansom Street took refuge from the cold in a nearby Wawa, but others remained outside to greet the passing floats.

“I felt like if the Mummers were going to be out here, I ought to be out here to support them,” said Beth LaPiene, who lives a few blocks away from the parade route. “I’m wearing two layers, plus like the warmest overcoat I could find.”

Police also lined the route, and Philadelphia trash trucks blocked roads leading to the main performance areas.

Jim and Debbie Hanessian drove up from Westminster, Maryland. They had never heard of the Mummers before, but found the parade online after searching for something to do on New Year’s Day.

On their way to Philadelphia, the couple paid close attention to the temperature gauge in their car, watching the needle struggle to get out of the single digits. Debbie layered to fight the cold, but Jim had to borrow a blanket from a stranger.

Sitting on a set of steel bleachers on Broad Street, Debbie wondered aloud about the quintessential Philadelphia tradition.

“Who are the Mummers? Anybody can be a Mummer or what?” she asked.

“You have to pass a test or something? I don’t think there is [a test]. I don’t think there’s any rules,” she said, laughing.

The pair marveled at the Mummers, dressed in elaborate costumes, drinking beer and smoking as they marched by.

“It’s a blast,” said Jim, a software tester, moments after a passing Mummer chucked a few handfuls of fun-sized candy bars at him.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.