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Oh, Dem Golden Slippers!

January 2, 2009

Philadelphia is home to some iconic Americana, know throughout the US, even the World; the cheese-steak, soft-pretzels, the Liberty Bell, Constitution Hall. Yesterday (New Years Day, 2009), N. and I (J.) had an opportunity to experience (as there is no other word to describe seeing it) another uniquely Philadelphia tradition: Mummery.

How shall I describe Mummers? Well, they’re everyday people from around Philadelphia. When I say “everyday”, I mean longshoreman, lawyers, welders, dentists, bus drivers, teachers, and just about every other profession and walk of life. These people come together to perform what can best be described as everything from street theater to marching bands to benevolent mobs of inebriated locals; all of them extremely dedicated to the part that they play in the Philadelphia New Years celebration traditions.

What is it that Mummers do? Mummers help the City of Brotherly Love to ring in the New Year, and have been doing so in some shape or form for hundreds of years. The Mummers Parade traces back to mid-17th century roots, blending elements from Swedish, Finnish, Irish, English, German and other European heritages, as well as African-American culture. The best explanation that I can find is here, and you’ll want to look into their “official” site.

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Trying to make sense of who the Mummers are and what they do is something for a much later date. Suffice it to say that they are fun, sincere and crazy, all at the same time. This year, we were fortunate enough to not only be living in the heart of South Philly Mummery, but to see some of the informal and unofficial Mummer’s Celebration march right by our home.

Clearly, I’m not no expert of Mummers, but N. and I did observe that the Mummers roots run deep, and tend to include brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents, children, grandchildren. I (J.) have seen tradition played out in a number of different forms all over the world, but none with more pride and enthusiasm than this.

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The 2009 celebrations were cut short this year due to budget cuts stemming from the poor economic situation in Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter had to make some tough economic decisions this year, and decided (rather at the last minute) to cut city funding of this grand tradition. I’m not going to get into the politics of this here, but believe me…the Mummers were pissed.

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Next year’s celebration is still up in the air. However, since private funds came to the rescue at the last minute, I would anticipate that those loyal to Philadelphia Mummery will think of something. This tradition is far too important, well grounded and fun to let it pass away because of something as silly as a budget.

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