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Mummers Parade is returning to Philly on New Year’s Day 2022

For the first time, the city has mandated sensitivity training for all Mummers.

Gary Stachowicz, left, from the South Philly String Band, and Steve Morris, right, from the Aqua String Band, perform at a press conference at Arthaus Condominiums by Dranoff Properties, during which it was announced that the Mummers Parade is returning to Broad Street on New Year's Day.
Gary Stachowicz, left, from the South Philly String Band, and Steve Morris, right, from the Aqua String Band, perform at a press conference at Arthaus Condominiums by Dranoff Properties, during which it was announced that the Mummers Parade is returning to Broad Street on New Year's Day.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

When the words Mummers Parade are typed into Google, the first “people also ask” question the search engine returns is “What is the point of the Mummers Parade?”

If you ask 100 Philadelphians, you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Recently on Twitter those answers ranged from “joy,” “tradition,” and “it’s a Philly thing” to “getting drunk” and “Reminds you that your uncle is racist. And dresses up with his friends for some reason.”

For some, the Mummers Parade — with its outlandish costumes, live music, and performance skits — is a beloved and uniquely Philadelphia tradition in line with Mardi Gras that spans generations. Mummers, many of whom are artists and musicians, play at news conferences, weddings, and sports stadiums and have appeared in films, books, and even on America’s Got Talent.

But for others, the Mummers Parade is an outmoded and, sometimes, offensive celebration.

Everyone from City Council members to op-ed writers have noted that Jan. 2 in Philly has become the day Mummers officials, city leaders, and Philadelphians talking to their confused relatives from out of town often have to apologize for something offensive that happened at the Mummers Parade on Jan. 1

In a city that loves to come together to celebrate just about anything, the Mummers Parade has become one of the more polarizing traditions in Philadelphia. Marred as recently as 2020 by two white Mummers who showed up in black face paint, the Mummers have come under fire by critics and community leaders for offensive skits that have included racist, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist stereotypes.

In 2020, Mayor Jim Kenney — a former Mummer himself ― threatened to end the tradition if Mummers leaders didn’t “commit to meaningful changes.” And that was before the civil rights protests of summer 2020 in Philadelphia, during which tens of thousands of people took to Philly’s streets to declare that “Black Lives Matter” and demand police and social reform.

Well, love ’em or loathe ’em, the Mummers will be strutting down Broad Street again on New Year’s Day after an official hiatus — and an unofficial Mummers “protest” parade to said hiatus — due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, city officials and Mummers gathered on a rooftop patio at Arthaus Condominiums, a still-under-construction building on South Broad Street at the site that was once home to Philadelphia International Records, to officially announce the return of the Mummers on New Year’s Day.

“No other place in the world rings in New Year’s like Philadelphia, and the reason why is because of the Mummers,” said City Councilmember Mark Squilla, who is a Mummer with the Shooting Stars Fancy Brigade. “When you hear about music and design and character and dancing, that all encompasses the Mummers. And Mummers are the arts spectrum of Philadelphia.”

While that is the attitude of some, outcries about offensive incidents at the parade led to a new mandate this year that all Mummers undergo sensitivity training. The city began offering sensitivity training to Mummers in 2016, but this year Mummers leaders are required to provide proof that all participants received the training and acknowledged a code of conduct.

This year the parade will begin at 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day at 15th and Market Streets at City Hall and travel down South Broad Street, where it will conclude at Washington Avenue. Checkpoints and performance areas along the route will be at Broad and Sansom Streets, Broad and Pine Streets, and Broad and Carpenter Streets.

Performances will start with the Fancy Division, followed by Wenches, Comics, String Bands, and the Fancy Brigades.

The event is free to attend along Broad Street. Limited tickets for outdoor bleacher seating at the judging and performance station at City Hall are available for purchase through Independence Visitor Center. Two Fancy Brigade shows, which also require tickets, will be held at the Convention Center at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The parade and performances will be broadcast live on PHL17.

Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner of Parks and Recreation, said that to meet Mayor Kenney’s demands for meaningful changes, the more than 10,000 Mummers participating in the parade had to undergo sensitivity trainings with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

“The trainings the Human Relations Commission have designed specifically for the Mummers have included everything from cultural trainings and diversity trainings as well as implicit bias and racial bias trainings,” she said.

Ott Lovell said it was mandatory that all skits and themes must also be approved by the commission and her department in advance.

“Could there be a couple of knuckleheads? That obviously has surfaced in other years,” she said. “I can’t say there won’t be, but I can say that the Mummers leadership is very committed to dealing with those knuckleheads.”

Squilla said the Mummers have been “100%” receptive to the mandatory trainings.

“They’re taking it very seriously. They understand the ramifications, the negative impact of what is done, whether it’s one or two members, it represents 10,000 of them,” he said. “It’s easy to brush off and say ‘That was just one guy,’ but we have to make sure that they’re responsible for all members out there.”

When it comes to COVID-19 precautions, Ott Lovell said there is no limit on crowd size, but the city is encouraging masking for participants and spectators (which, if you’ve been to an event in Philly in the last six months, goes over about as well as encouraging Philadelphians to wear Dallas Cowboys hats).

As for just what the point of the Mummers Parade, which began in 1901, is, Squilla said that “it’s almost impossible” to describe.

“It’s just a celebration of ringing in the New Year with love and festivities and art and culture,” he said. “It’s a combination of all those things wrapped into one, with a little Mardi Gras wrapped in.”