What Is the History of the Philadelphia Mummers?


Quick Answer

The Philadelphia Mummers trace their tradition back to George Washington who, while living in Philadelphia, greeted his friends during the week leading up to New Year's Day in mummer style, which included miming, masking and folk play. The annual city-sponsored Philadelphia Mummer's Parade first occurred in 1901 on New Year's Day. This was the conclusion of decades in the 19th century when masquerading was outlawed in the city, but the mummers continued their practices.

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Full Answer

Following the parade, mummers performed dance routines inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Among the different styles of mummers in the parade and competition were Comics, Fancy Brigades, Wench Brigades and String Bands, who played music; however, they did not allow the use of brass instruments. Comics used slapstick during their performances and involved child performers. The Wench Brigades costumes included parasols, a dress, scarf, bloomers and a hat. The Fancy Brigade used more ornate costume pieces including extra long capes.

European immigrants from Scandinavia and Britain brought mummer traditions with them to the New World, and these cultures got their traditions from ancient people such as the Egyptians and Greeks. Mummers in the 16th and 17th century shot firearms during their revelry; however, the Philadelphia Mummers forwent any firearms during their parade and competition.

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