When Is a Parade Not a Parade?

Five Fixes for the Mummers, a Philadelphia Tradition

Anna Maria DiDio
5 min readJan 13, 2023

Born and raised in Philadelphia, I avoided the mummers parade for years totally due to my misinformed family. My father disliked the whole idea of drunken revelry. He was a “fun police” sort of dad if I am honest. The concept of partying was so outside his comfort zone.

So I dismissed the January 1 festivities as not my thing.

The Mummers parade has been part of life in Philadelphia since 1901— the year of the first city-sanctioned parade. A mummer is defined as a performer in a pantomime; merrymaking in disguise during festivals. The word itself traces back to ancient Greece — denoting a character of mockery and satire. However, there is also an old English word mommer which has been tied to English and Irish celebrations as far back as 1819.

Early Mummery in Europe

Extended family Christmas or other holiday celebrations would always end with aunts, uncles and cousins (on my mother’s side) strutting to Oh Dem Golden Slippers (a Philadelphia Mummers’ standard), which was my father’s cue to leave.

Fast forward to adult life. While at a New Year’s day party with the man who would become my husband, the group was astonished to learn I had never been to a parade. It was 10:00 pm and the parade was still going on! (This was 1989.) We quickly left the party to join the fun. I have been on Broad Street — the main parade route — every January 1 since then.

The parade has changed over the years: the beginning point, the end point, the judging, the direction, more women performers and musicians (yeah!) and entertainment level of the clubs.

Every year I watch the parade and get frustrated because while standing in the freezing cold, I am thinking about a few easy ways to make the experience better. Every year a I vow to write a letter — so this year, I am finally doing it!

The two main parts of the parade are the Comics (beginning at 9:00 am) and the String Bands (beginning around 2:00 pm).

Dear Comics:

We appreciate your thoughtfulness of theme in dress, umbrella, beads, bangles, painted sneakers and other standard mummer finery. However, we are here to watch you (#1) Strut your stuff! This is a PARADE that begins at city hall and extends approximately two miles south to Washington Avenue. It’s a relatively short distance to entertain your fellow Philadelphians. Newsflash…these faithful fans have lined the parade route to watch you perform and do your comic thing.

Comics strolling down Broad Street

But guess what? You are not really doing anything. It’s boring to watch you drag your tired selves down Broad Street, posing for selfies or smoking cigarettes until you reach the end of the route. The music is great. It’s loud and gets the crowd bouncing. But we lose our energy pretty quickly as we watch you just walk by, talking to your friends and ignoring us.

You are hung over. I get it. Remember to hydrate the night before.

The following suggestion is appropriate for comics and string bands.

(#2) Not everyone in the “parade” is a mummer. Of course, it’s impossible for you to exist as a club without your support staff. Dressed in all black, these dedicated men and women push strollers or pull wagons to carry your club props, water, first aid, supplies, kids etc. However, I don’t want the stage hands in my mummer photos. Harsh — I know — but true. Move the stage crew to the back of the pack which will make for a better experience for everyone watching (once you start performing that is).

Hey -they can still do their thing. Here is an enthusiastic mummer assistant who was more interested in performing than the comics were and super fun to watch.

Dear String Bands,

Your talent is amazing. The ability to play instruments in the arctic temps is much appreciated. Over the years, you have really stepped up your game with fun choreography and imaginative props.

(#3) We are here to see and hear YOU! However, the TV viewer, those at City Hall, or on risers at the Union League, are the only ones who can truly see and hear your performance. There are hundreds more along the parade route that just get to watch you march by. Why not have a shorter routine along the route so that more can appreciate your efforts? Or hey — at least play more music.

(#4) Face your audience! You have performed for the judges and the local TV camera at city hall. For the rest of the parade route, the crowd is lined up on the east and west sides of Broad street as you strut south. When it comes time to perform, turn to face the crowd which will enable more people to see what you have been rehearsing for months.

(#5) Respect and acknowledge your fans. Take a moment to enjoy and appreciate the crowds. When your performance has concluded, pose for pics, yell Happy New Year!, smile, wave, whatever. Shame on you captain Fralinger for refusing to take a picture with me. You were the last band and the parade was over. Where were you off to in such a rush?

I hope my hints make for a better parade in 2024. The only thing I am certain of is that I will be watching. Thank you mummers for the best way to ring in the new year.



Anna Maria DiDio

Children's book author who also writes about the wonder and mystery of everyday grown-up life: www.amdidio.com