Friday, March 4, 2011

Mummers on Parade: The Show of Shows

I don’t know how many people have ever heard of the Mummers Parade. The phenomenon is a Philadelphia institution. I had never heard of the custom before moving to the Philly area.
The Mummers tradition of welcoming the New Year hails back to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman traditions. Philadelphia’s Swedish settlers extended their second day of Christmas celebration to include costumes and parades on New Year’s Day. The unorganized celebrations became a focused festival by the 1870’s, and the city’s first official parade was January 1, 1901.
There are three categories of mummers: string bands, the fancy division and fancy brigades, and the comics. The parade goes on for hours. The idea of standing outside in the winter cold all day never appealed to me. My hub went one year and described how much fun it was. There was still no interest on my part in donning layers of clothing to witness the event. But the parade intrigued me.
On a cold Sunday afternoon hub and I ventured over to the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall to see 16 string bands strut their stuff. It was a relaxing, laid back way to spend three hours. We sat in comfortable seats where we could see the bands clearly. We wore comfy clothes. There were even cup holders on the back of the seats in front of us so we could enjoy our drinks. The arena holds about 12,000. There were probably about 3,000 people at the show. I didn’t even have to wait in line at the ladies room.
These are not professional performers. Band members have conventional lives and jobs. The performances ranged from ones similar to those experienced at our kids’ junior high events to professional-level acts. All of the bands had elaborate costumes that sparkled and must have cost a lot of money. The costumes were the most professional part of the performances.
There was a lot of music and simple choreography. Professional groups not only have a lot of time to practice and perfect their performance, they are hand-picked. The Mummers are volunteers and amateurs who love what they are doing. Professional groups look synchronized in size and appearance. The Mummers were male and female and different sizes, shapes and ages. They were regular people. It was fun to watch, and I am sure the performers have great fun practicing and performing.
Each band had a theme. Some of the ones I remember were a Cuban theme, German beer fest, Ukrainian theme, 1920s speakeasy, pirates, showboat, cowboys, and a carnival theme. The carnival won the best of show at the 2011 New Year’s Parade.
I am glad we stayed through the intermission and saw the last performances. The organizers saved the best for last. The final four bands were the highest rated, winning-est bands in 2011 and previous years.
I guess this is one event I can cross off my bucket list. The Mummers Parade indoor performance, although featuring only a small part of the entire Parade entourage, was enjoyable entertainment. It would be a great place to take the kids or grandkids – the kind of activity hard to find sometimes. Reasonably priced entertainment where kids can sit, stand, talk, walk, view and generally be just kids. Adults have a good time too.