It’s New Year’s morning, and I’m eating an early lunch in my jammies watching the Mummers Parade on TV. It’s not even noon yet, and the parade is on all day.
As I recollect, in my day, the parade was called the “New Year’s Day Parade.” The costumed mummers, then as now, only came on later, when everyone had time to sober up. They were only part of the parade.
The stuff I want to see, the uninhibited stuff, comes on early. The fancy divisions appear near suppertime, which is what most viewers are waiting for, but by then, they have switched over to the Rose Bowl Parade. (Except for this year when New Years Day was on a Sunday, and January 2 was the Rose Bowl.)
The difference between the two parades is startling, and many Philadelphians are embarrassed by the mummers. But they needn’t be. They are two very different types of parades.
The Rose Bowl Parade is the ultimate commercial parade, sponsored by giant corporations, eager to get their name spelled out in flowers in front of a grateful public. The parade is made for TV. Yes, it is magnificent, as it should be with all that money behind it.
A parade, by definition, is moving entertainment for the public lined up along the route. But a commercial parade is all for the TV cameras located at one spot, and the parade route is just the staging area for the next acts. Not much happens away from the cameras.
At the other extreme, the Mummers Parade is a participation parade. The fun is in getting liquored up and actually being part of it. Who cares if anyone is watching? “Dance as if no one is watching,” is a common motto.
The next best is to be there watching it live, packed in with others on ice-cold stands. The weather is almost always bad, and much of the joy comes later as you brag about having done it. Like climbing the Matterhorn.
Your ears will be ringing from the yelling crowd around you all day. You will be frozen to the bone, probably wet through, a stranger’s dried puke on your shoe, but you did it . . . and survived.
Survived, that is, with a little help from your friends. Even if you brought no liquor, everyone will insist you share theirs. They will even help you find the subway home, it’s that kind of comradery. You may even find them in your bed the next day.
I was actually part of the parade one year in high school when a friend invited me along. His father was in it. All I needed to do was dress in anything bright and silly and bring a bandana handkerchief to wave. They would paint my face and lend me a three-tiered umbrella to carry. I already knew the mummers strut, but anyone could learn it in five minutes. I was not part of the drinking, but it was clear the drunker you were, the better you could strut. An umbrella was needed for balance. No one worried about under-aged drinking. Most of the participants were relatives of policemen.
There was no staging for the TV cameras back then. Just strut, laugh, and have fun.
In those days, mummers were men-only and the parade was an excuse to get away from their wives. They also got to dress in a bizarre costumes and play an instrument loud (not necessarily the same song as everyone else.) And drink. And spit. And puke. All things they were not allowed to do at home. It was a safety valve they could look forward to all year, like Oktoberfest in Germany.
And be politically incorrect. They could dress as an African tribesman, in black-face with a bone through their hair. Or a sleepy Mexican in a sombrero. Or an Arab holding a bomb. When they eliminated black-face years ago, half the marchers had to change generations-old traditions.
But the worst, the most politically incorrect, the most bizarre, was dressing as women with huge (huge!) busts and butts, sagging panty hose, exaggerated wild lipstick and fright wigs. That’s where the real resentment showed.
The parade started downhill when they allowed women to participate. Then they allowed children, and pushed participation by the entire family. Then, they banned more and more costumes that could possibly offend anyone, anywhere, anytime.
What’s the point if a grown man cannot dress up in black-face, stick a chicken bone in his hair, drink, puke, wet his pants, act silly once a year? How can he do any of those with his family right there?
(My main complaint this year on TV was calling it “The Sugar House Casino Mummers Parade.” It is not. Maybe they could say, “The Mummers Parade Brought To You By the Sugar House Casino,” but that’s as far as I would allow. It’s our parade, not theirs.)
Oh, dem golden slippers/ Golden slippers I’m goin’ to wear . . .
(I didn’t see it live, but later I read of a float that was a giant toilet with animated poop rising out of it. The woman who designed it complained that it was censored by the TV coverage. I don’t know any more about it, but, so far, I vote for the TV censorship. I am uninhibited, but this sounds like something just to get attention, and I am long past toilet humor.)