Mummers make their annual strut in Philadelphia

People participate in the 113th annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, on Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

January 1, 2013 10:47:51 PM PST
A Mardi Gras-like New Year's Day parade believed to be the nation's oldest folk festival has been held in Philadelphia.

The century-old annual Mummers Parade features thousands of performers dressed in colorful costumes adorned with sequins and feathers. Tuesday's parade boasted painted comics, string bands and other brigades marching down Broad Street, the city's main north-south thoroughfare.

Decked out in elaborate face paint, purple butterfly wings and souvenir beads from the last six Mummers parades, Tracy Rivera looked out from her perch in a downtown first-floor storefront window and surveyed the 2013 edition.

As colorfully festooned Mummers strutted just below her, thrusting umbrellas in the air, dancing, singing and raucously bringing in the new year, she saw a traditional family gathering: Her son, Dustin, 10, wore a red, white and blue jester hat; daughter Arianna, 5, watched gleefully in her own pink fairy wings; and husband Brian soaked it in while still jauntily sporting his bright green "Official Beer Taster" hat.

"This is the one most important thing we do every year as a family," said Rivera, who has family members who've participated in a Mummers' brigade as long as she can remember. "I always remember begging my uncle for one of his costumes."

Believed to be the nation's oldest folk festival, the Mummers Parade is often known as Philadelphia's Mardi Gras and features heavily costumed and painted comics, string bands and other brigades that march down Broad Street, the city's main north-south thoroughfare. Thousands turned out Tuesday on a chilly and overcast day, as the tradition was renewed for the 113th year.

One skit featured a festooned, glittery yellow tank and a gigantic red, white and blue "Uncle Sam" hat and was geared toward thanking members of the military. Another featured performers who amassed into a sea of pink to commemorate breast cancer awareness. The Second Street Stompers had on yellow hard hats as they marched and strutted in their blue and yellow skirts, while another group honored American Bandstand.

The Fralinger String Band, which had some of its props damaged in a warehouse fire last month, was back and marching, too. The group had an appropriate theme, "Back from the Dead," which was selected before the fire.

A band of Mummers wearing red devil horns and holding giant pitchforks marched by as first-time attendee Lisa Wielunski, 31, watched in awe. While it was her first time at the parade, the Drexel University law student from Long Island, N.Y., caught on quickly and was wearing a frilly pink cowboy hat.

As a child, Wielunski used to watch the more traditional New York City parade from the high-up porch of relatives. The Mummers Parade, she said, provided many more interesting nuances, to say the least. "It's kind of funny when the guys on the street have on more makeup than me," she said.

The parade mixes the immigrant traditions of the Scandinavians who welcomed the new year with gunfire, the English and Welsh who entertained with masquerade plays, and the Germans credited with introducing Santa Claus to their new surroundings. Black residents arriving after the Civil War added the signature strut along with "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers," the parade's theme song. The parade became an official city-sponsored event in 1901.

John Akard, 46, of Houston, took in the dizzying and deafening scene of debauchery for the first time, as he and his family met up with friends from Rochester, N.Y., to celebrate New Year's in Philadelphia. Noting the noise and chaos, as well as a "House of Screams" skit featuring a hearse with a body inside, he said he was glad to be sober and alcohol-free while taking it all in.

"It's a little crazy," he said of the scene. "If you were hung over, it would be a problem."

He and his friends, though, weren't afraid to show how much they had to learn about the Mummers, stumbling by accident on one of their most important and well-known traditions: their golden slippers, commemorated in the theme song.

"We asked about the gold shoes," Akard said, a little sheepish. "Apparently, that's a tradition."

Here are the winners from this year's Mummers Parade:

Comics Division - Murray took the top spot along with Murray Captain Dennis Pellegrino.

The Comic Brigade Division - The Goodtimes' Rabble Rousers took first.

Wench Brigade - Bryson took first place.

The Fancies ? Hog Island and the winning captain is Matt Glovacs of Golden Sunrise.

The String Band - Fralinger took first place; Quaker City - Second and Woodland - Third

The Fancy Brigades -- the South Philly Vikings took First Place; The Downtowners Second, and Saturnalien - Third.