Thursday, December 30, 2010
New Year's Day
New Year's day....for some it is a day for Bowl games or dry-heaving into the Bowl....for others it is a day like any other with perhaps only a small hangover or none at all. Most view the New Year as a clean slate, a fresh start, a time to make resolutions for improving one's lot or casting off the odd vice.
In Philadelphia, New Year's day is a whole separate Party; removed and different than the hapless striving for a good time that happens on the Eve. This night many a pathetic soul parties with weiner-tots,plastic noise-makers, bad hats and worse sparkling wine.
New Year's day brings us in the Delaware Valley, and the lucky tourists who venture to the City of brotherly love, the Mummer's Parade. Officially it began as a City sponsored parade in 1901. However, the revelry of Mummers and New Year's "Shooters" has it's roots in German, English and Swedish settlers who roamed the Colonial streets ringing in the New Year with gunfire, booze and costumed antics. The parade now features Comics, String Bands and Fancies and generally takes about 6 to 7 hours to complete.
Wondering about the attraction of the Mummers is not unlike that old question about Jazz...if you have to ask you'll never know. It is a party on New Year's day and a great spectacle of costume and musical talent...and an excuse to drink and cavort . It is similar to Mardis Gras and Carnivale and makes the Rose Bowl Parade look like a crepe paper joke. Unfortunately many people lambast and criticize the parade and scoff at the tradition and it's participants. To those naysayers I simply reply that they do not know squat...you have to experience it live to appreciate the talent and get caught up in the fun. I have been going since I was a kid and now take my kids. They are all teenagers now and they love it even without access to the intoxicants consumed by the adults.
Who are these guys, the Mummers, who festoon themselves with expensive feathered and sequined costumes and pick up a sax and banjo or drum and march up Broad street? These guys ( and now women as well) are steamfitters and longshoreman, welders and bookkeepers and just everyday people who belong to a Club and practice and work hard all year to participate and compete in this special event.These New Year's clubs are tight knit social groups that include generations of families. They toil and practice year round to raise money for their instruments and costumes and choreographers and music teachers. The competition between the top String Bands is fierce and the bragging rights last the whole year.
On a chilly New Year's day there is nothing like hearing the distinctive sound of the String Bands marching up Broad street. The sound echoes in the office building confines of the streets and resonates to the core of each spectator. The bands sport numerous saxophones and banjos, bass and drum, Sousaphone and even Glockenspiel. The sound is unique in all the world. It is not a musical genre you would put in your CD player in the car, but in the afternoon of the first day of the year, amongst friends and family and thousands of Happy New Year wishing parade goers, it is a happy and uplifting music.The routines they present are creative and the Mummers suits are often just amazing.
The "Wench" Brigades ( The painted faced maniacs pictured above), are loosely based on old European costumes and in their contemporary incarnation are just crews of men and boys dressed as "Wenches" who parade in the morning. Later, they retire to Clubhouses for major bashes or haunt the parade route swilling beers and wishing all and sundry a Happy New Year.
So while many across the Country are glumly boxing up their Christmas decor, or plodding to the gym for their first of only a few resolution work outs, or administering to a hang-over with hair o' the dog or just aspirin and Coca-Cola, I will be at the Parade hugging my Wife and kids, taking a nip on a flask of Bourbon,and cheering on Fralinger, or Ferko or Quaker City String Band. Happy New Year everybody.