The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play

The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play

The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play

The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community through Play


Every New Year's Day since 1901, the Philadelphia Mummers have presented a spectacular show of shows that raucously snakes and shimmies its way through city streets. The Mummers Parade features music, dance, comedy, and mime, along with dazzling costumes and floats. Although the lavish event is now televised to a wide audience, it is still rooted in the same neighborhoods where it began. This book explores the community created and annually reaffirmed by the Philadelphia Mummers. The author spent more than five years with the Mummers, observing their lives and rituals as she took part in their preparations and parades. Writing with the fascination of a sociologist and the excitement of a participant, Masters examines the Mummers from their beginnings. Through the prism of their century-long history, we can see how communities retain their identities and how they are affected by larger cultural trends. In the words of the Mummers themselves: "Performing is a total, joyous release. You're having fun. Now, you're just going to let all the tension you've had in your job, in your family, from getting ready-you just let it go. There's a big smile ten miles wide on your face and you're out there to have a good time. That's what it's all about. It's important to parade once a year, but it's also important to be able to be in your community, have a place that you know that you can go to, and socialize and be with friends and feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. You have a camaraderie there that just builds and builds. It's just like, you're a family, this is your group."


South Second Street, known as Mummers Row, is quiet the day after
“the Parade.” The January sky is grey. In the bow windows, where
Christmas decorations were replaced in some row houses by elabo
rately decorated Mummer dolls as New Year’s Day drew near, all
that is evident is the prosaic lamp framed by half-drawn curtains.
The Mummer neighborhood clubhouses are silent. Their members
have returned to the ordinary business of working and catching up
on family chores neglected in the rush to prepare for “going up the
Street.” Yet traces of “Two Street” remain in the glitter and stray
sequins that seem embedded in the very concrete of the sidewalks,
or in the occasional piece of trim or plume that the street cleaners
missed the morning after “the Parade.” Suspended on the utility wire
above the street, the startling presence of a pair of gilded sneakers,
tossed in the air by an exuberant comic, gives mute testimony to the
boisterous celebrations of the preceding night, when the Mummers
returned from the official city parade to perform in the narrow
streets where their tradition began

The Mummers Parade is over for another year. But the memo
ries of performing together at City Hall will be replayed in the club
houses in the weeks and months to come. In January fantasy is put
aside and play suspended, but the Mummer community endures, as
it has for a century. After a brief respite, the Mummers will come
together to begin their preparations for performing again on the
first day of the next new year

—Field notes, 2 January 1996

This book is about the community created over the past century and reaffirmed annually by the Philadelphia Mummers. At the core of this community is the annual Philadelphia Mummers Parade. In preparing for their performances, the Mummers enact and re-create traditions, work collaboratively to produce art . . .

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