The tradition of Philadelphia Mummery started in the late 17th century as a continuation of the Old World customs of ushering in the New Year. Mummery in America is as unique to Philadelphia as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. For example, the Swedes were Philadelphia’s first settlers. When they came to Tinicum, just outside of Philadelphia, they brought their custom of visiting friends on “Second Day Christmas”, December 26. Later they extended their period of celebration to include New Year’s Day, and welcomed the New Year with masquerades and parades of noisy revelers. Most people carried firearms for protection in those early days of the [colony], and it did not take long before pistols and muskets joined with bells and noisemakers to create the sound of a New Year. Those who “shot in” the New Year became New Year’s Shooters, and thus the name much later evolved to officially become the New Year’s Shooters and Mummers Association. Groups would travel from house to house, sing songs, and performances — all to be rewarded with food and drink.

By the 1870’s, what had been an uncoordinated group of neighborhood celebrations turned into an area-wide parade with two main groups of participants: Fancy Dress and Comic clubs. The City of Philadelphia finally sponsored and organized the first official Mummers Parade on January 1, 1901.The parade is still held on New Year’s Day, with four distinct divisions: Comic, Fancy, Fancy Brigade and String Band. Comic division clubs lampoon modern day local and national political and social themes. The Fancy Brigade division clubs also wear large, ornate costumes, and perform intricate dances and drills with elaborate props (and since 1998 have performed indoors at the convention center).

Article compiled by Art Mc Ginnis with quoted material provided by Steve Coper