The start of the new year has always been a time for reflecting and starting over. After almost two years of COVID restrictions and limitations, some traditions are coming back stronger than ever.

The annual Mummers Parade will make its return to the streets of Philadelphia on New Year’s Day 2022. This 120-year-old tradition begins at 9 am and is free to attend.

Stephen Highsmith, who was the official broadcaster for the parade for 28 years, told Delaware Valley Journal there is a lot of confusion surrounding the Mummers, which he says is a group of social organizations.

“Mummery itself has variations throughout history in other parts of the world,” Highsmith said. “The Philadelphia Mummers are sort of an amalgam of ethnic influences and working-class unique Philadelphia influences that date back to the 1700s, late 1600s but took off in the late 1800s, and then really took off when the parade was formalized in 1901.”

The Mummers parade typically consists of 10,000 Mummers and is the longest parade in the United States. According to Highsmith, it will look different depending on the club.

“There are dozens of clubs but they all report to one of five divisions,” Highsmith explained. “And those divisions have different histories. So there’s the Comics, and the Wenches, which is the newest one that was formalized as a division. There’s the String Bands which a lot of people know or think of. And there are the Fancy Brigades and then there’s one club that’s still in the remaining club in the Fancy Division. The original divisions of the parade were the Comic Division, and the Fancy Division and the String Bands came along and then the Fancy Brigades broke off from the Fancy Division and created their own special style of what they’re doing.”

Tracy Buchholz from En Route Marketing, representing the Mummers for the 2022 parade, told DVJ that anyone attending the parade should expect an amazing day.

“The Fancy Brigade will host two full performances throughout the day, indoors at the Convention Center at 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. (finale),” Buchholz said. “Otherwise, Visitors who would like to view full live performances will have multiple stops to choose from along the parade route. The order of the performances will be as follows: Fancy, Wenches, Comics, and String Bands. Viewing areas will occur at the following locations:

  • North 15th & Market Streets (all divisions perform)
  • Broad & Sansom Streets (at the Union League Performance Area – String Bands only)
  • Broad & Pine Streets (Fancy, Wenches, Comics, Fancy Brigades perform)
  • Broad & Carpenter Streets (all divisions perform).”

Visitors can expect “a colorful sea of glitter, sequence, and feathers. And the sounds of the bands marching with high-energy music and family-friendly performances,” according to Jessica Mazzone, president of the Comics Division.

Highsmith, the author of “Philadelphia Mummers,” hopes more people will learn about the Mummers’ rich history.

“The original Mummers were the Comics,” said Highsmith. “So, they would just dress up in certain ways, and sometimes a local tavern would say, ‘Hey, group of Mummers. You come here and just strut and do a skit or do something and that will attract people to come to my bar.’ So that’s what went on for a lot of the 1800s. They were largely working-class and outside of the accepted ruling class of Philadelphia. So that’s why when the parade started it became very important that they would go up to City Hall and there was always a political side to them, that on that day they ruled the street. Now that doesn’t mean that was their motivation and that isn’t so much the motivation today.”

While it sometimes can turn political, the majority of Mummers who participate in the parade are doing it out of tradition and to bond with their family and friends.

“Philadelphia Mummers are largely people who know each other,” Highsmith said. “They either have family or friend connections. They are people who go out there mainly to socialize, to entertain, and to continue, in many cases, things that their mothers and fathers had done with their aunts and uncles and cousins.”

Although the parade is free, additional ways to watch it require tickets. Tickets for the Mummers Parade bleacher seating at the City Hall Stand Performance Zone (15th and Market Streets) and the Fancy Brigade Finale performances (11:30 am and 5 pm at the Pennsylvania Convention Center) are available for purchase through the Independence Visitor Center Corporation. Tickets may be purchased via phone by calling 800-537-7676; in-person at the Independence Visitor Center (599 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19106); or online.

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