Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Finally, the Philadelphia classic (going back to the 18th Century) New Year's Mummer's Parade is getting some of its just due, with livestreaming available nationwide (and I suppose worldwide), and lots more exposure of this greatest parade I've ever experienced, dwarfing the Rose Parade and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in terms of sheer volume, music, dancing, and comedy.

Before I was born, and I think before he even met my mother, my dad, Edward, was a marching banjo player in the most popular band in the parade, The Ferko String Band. My own favorite instrument in watching the parade were the xylophones. We kids would imitate the strutters by holding our coats open and singing the iconic song most identified with the Mummers, "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers." Which was written near the end of the 19th Century by an African-American composer and was a mainstay for blackface performers in minstrel shows. It is still ubiquitous in today's parade.

New Year's Day was usually cold in Philadelphia, and I would be bundled up as I walked with my parents the three blocks from our 11th Street home in South Philly to Broad Street, where, if we were early enough, we could get a place on the curb to sit. As I grew older, I would go with my friends. It was like a three ring circus. There were the string bands, with their Vegas showgirl-type elaborate costumes and headdresses, then the comic divisions, making fun of just about everything going on in the world, and the fancy dress divisions, as colorful and inventive as any Rose Parade float. There were actual floats, too. 

It was a far longer parade than most, often lasting six hours or more. A sort of endurance contest, but worth every minute shivering in the cold and watching one's breath as the parade went by. If I was lucky, a soft pretzel vendor would appear and I could warm my hands on a heated version of Philadelphia's gift to culinary culture.

Perhaps Carnaval as celebrated in several cities in Panama can match the Mummer's Parade, but somehow I doubt it. I'll be moving there in time for that mid-February celebration, so we shall see.
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