The Mummers Parade

A couple of years ago, I spent New Years in Philadelphia, where I happened upon the most bonkers first-day-of-the-year celebration in existence: The Mummers Parade.

I was not previously aware of this tradition, and I honestly thought it was some sort of gay pride event. If you hear the participants tell it, however, there is nothing homosexual about men dressing in garish, feathery costumes and parading around with full choreography.

Current.tv has an interesting primer video on the phenomenon:

I find the whole thing fascinating from a cultural perspective. Most of the Mummers are tough-talking, working class men who see nothing queer about dousing themselves in glitter, donning dresses, and practicing a dance routine all year. Only more recently have women been permitted to join some of the clubs, which are sort of fratty in nature, and the parade also had a long history of blackface - though that aspect has been phased out, apparently.

It's a funny case study in how context determines perception. Since the Mummers have been a part of Philly culture for more than a century now, locals don't seem to think twice about how emasculating it might appear. Meanwhile, if someone were to start a similar parade in an unfamiliar city, I think you'd be hard-pressed to recruit the same type of participants given how flamboyant the whole thing is.

I can't call myself a fan of the parade; personally, headdresses and silly dance routines don't amuse me, particularly for hours on end. That said, I am a fan of culture that is otherwise counter-culture. I may not understand it, per se, but I kinda like knowing that men are cross-dressing and high-kicking in between cheering for the Eagles.

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