The Philadelphia Mummers strutted the city’s Broad Street on Sunday after a weather-related one day delay and a year after COVID-19 restrictions resulted in the notorious and sometimes inflammatory event being canceled.
Costumed revelers strutted and danced through the still humid Philadelphia Main Market and Broad Streets to the tunes of string orchestras or pop songs in unusually warm temperatures and gray skies that threatened to make the umbrellas carried by many many participants of a more than ceremonial use.
“It’s so much fun – I had no idea,” said Elizabeth Baker, 37, looking across from city hall with Riley Hayes, 17, who is from Alabama. “I moved here in 2019, I didn’t go in 2020 and last year they didn’t have it, so I was like ‘I have to go this year!’ “
The celebration seen by thousands of people each year also features comic book brigades, elaborate floats, and plenty of feathers and glitter. It also drew persistent criticism and at one point a threat from the mayor to end the event after repeated displays of blackface or other behavior deemed offensive. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that troops must undergo racial bias and cultural sensitivity training since 2020.
The cancellation related to last year’s pandemic was only the second in more than 119 years of the event’s history, as all major parades and events were banned for most of 2020. Some Mummers held a protest rally at their South Philly playground last year in protest of the decision.
City officials have refused to cancel the outdoor event this year despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but have demanded masks throughout the parade route and demanded for anyone feeling sick to stay home and watch live TV coverage instead. The delay in this year’s rain led to the parade after Saturday night’s indoor events, including performances at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which usually wrap up the celebration.
The Mummers Parade, considered the oldest folk festival in the country, stems from a mixture of immigrant traditions, some dating back to the 1640s, nicknamed “mummer”, probably from the German word for “mask”.
It mixes immigrant traditions from the Scandinavians who greeted the New Year with gun shots, the English and Welsh who entertained themselves with masquerade plays, and the Germans credited with introducing Santa Claus to their new environment. Black residents who arrived after the Civil War added the strut with “Oh! Dem Golden Slippers ”, the theme song for the show. The parade became an official city sponsored event in 1901.
The traditional show now includes a four-part competition: comics, satirics; Fantasies, with the most flashy outfits; Fancy Brigades, with choreographed theatrical works; and String Bands, the dancing musicians, with their traditional “Oh! Dem golden slippers.