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Five reasons to let the Mummers march

On New Year's Eve, flyers went door-to-door urging residents to stay home

Mummers cartoon
Cartoon: Tom Stiglich

If anyone can’t see the plans the Mummers have this Friday, or thought they would go away quietly, they must still be blind drunk from last New Year’s.

They’ve organized a “New Year’s Day Peaceful Protest Against Mayor Kenney” on Facebook, and, as of this writing, an estimated 2,900 people claim they are going, with 8,500 more interested in tagging along.

“It should go without saying that everyone will be on 2nd Street New Year’s Day, strutting their best, to peacefully protest his administration in true, centuries old fashion, as we usually do every New Years,” the post author wrote.

“2nd street WILL be bumping on New Year’s Day, and you are silly if you thought it was not going to.”

The city denied all petitions submitted by the Mummers to march in the form of a protest, just as it did for protesters for social justice over the summer time. Mayor Jim Kenney said the city doesn’t officially issue permits for protesting and it won’t interfere with the Mummers plans on New Year’s Day. However, police will be deployed if necessary and employ the same policy relating to COVID concerns and large crowds, a spokesperson said.

The Mummers protest has either been viewed as reckless and defiant or totally necessary to protect free speech. They’re either massive COVID super-spreaders or an oppressed group of freedom fighters struggling to keep a 120-year-old tradition alive. After considering both sides, I would like to offer five good reasons why the Mummers should be left alone this year.

1. Popular demand

Leaders of the string bands and the wench brigades have said they will not participate in an organized gathering on New Year’s Day and intend to fully cooperate with the city to make the holiday as safe as possible. But sources say many who will be dressing up and taking to the streets are not even Mummers – but friends of Mummers or Mummer aspirants. Word is Froggy Carr – the carousing club notorious for its members getting in messes on NYD – is selling wench suits in an effort to saturate the city with satin. A Froggy Carr ambassador confirmed this, saying “some of the local women who make the suits for the clubs are making custom suits for interested parties.” In any event, if there is any kind of demand for this attire, it only goes to show that Mummer popularity is growing, not waning.

2. City spirit

Shortly after news broke the parade was cancelled, all kinds of Mum merch started to surface – Mummer pins, buttons, T-shirts and sweatshirts. And the messages plastered across them weren’t negative as one might imagine – telling the mayor to suck on something or go to hell. They were hopeful, cheerful and unifying: “SOUTH PHILLY STILL STRUTS” read one hoodie, and “WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER” – another.  For as much as some like to hate on the Mummers, there appears to be overwhelming support for them. The numbers down on Two Street speak for themselves.

3. Keeping tradition alive

Some Mummers groups take this more seriously than others, but the parade and every step leading up to it have been a part of Philly’s cultural fabric for more than a hundred years. The very act of mummery dates back even further than that – to the time of the ancient Egyptians. When PHL17 broadcasts the parade every year, it attracts national attention. Traditions like family and friends coming together to stitch the costumes, craft the floats, practice their music and routines and build a bond represent a critical piece of Philadelphia culture. There’s something to be said for that.

4. Drinking is safer outside

When the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, but bars are closed, those who don’t heed the call to “stay home” are going to be looking to “cheers” with someone on that occasion. This might be the most celebrated hour of the year – when Philadelphia closes the book on 2020 and welcomes in 2021. It’s been a dumpster fire of a year, and that congregation and revelry will likely happen in people’s homes if it’s not happening in licensed drinking establishments. If they’re going to drink – and drink heavily – let them be on the street and not squeezed into a row home. There’s at least more room to social distance.

5. Avoid unnecessary conflict

The Mummers might not be trying to hoodwink anybody by casting their “peaceful protest” against Mayor Kenney as that. It may be an intentional flick of the middle finger to the mayor, his administration, his threats of torpedoing the parade last year and maybe even his citywide COVID lockdown. By the city taking a hands-off approach to the Mummers, it will only result in better relations with them and may even prevent problems on New Year’s.

Many know this, but Mayor Kenney was a Mummer himself for 30 years.

“It was part of my tradition and life growing up. I’m disappointed that they’re not going to have [the parade], but it’s not more important than your health or your life,” he has said.

It should go without saying that if somebody chooses to go out for the holiday, they take a risk. Sick people should stay home. Healthy people should make wise choices. Mummers should stock up on Advil, Vitamin C and be grateful for a three-day weekend.

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  • PW Editor Jenny DeHuff

    Jenny DeHuff has been a part of the Philadelphia media landscape for the last 15 years on just about every level of journalism. She started out at The Bulletin, a conservative voice for Philadelphia, then moved through the region as she honed her career as the City Hall reporter at the Daily News, and later as an editor at Philly Voice. As Philadelphia Weekly's editor-in-chief, DeHuff brings a viewpoint that constantly begs the question of a progressive-leaning Philadelphia. Say hello at jdehuff@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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