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Mummers return after a canceled parade, even if that means recycled costumes and some missing brigades

The Mummers didn't strut down Broad Street in 2021, but they're returning amid rising coronavirus case counts and increasing costs for lumber and sequins.

Avalon String Band members wave after their performance in front of City Hall during the annual Mummers Parade in on Jan. 1, 2020. The 2021 parade was canceled and the Mummers will return for the 2022 parade.
Avalon String Band members wave after their performance in front of City Hall during the annual Mummers Parade in on Jan. 1, 2020. The 2021 parade was canceled and the Mummers will return for the 2022 parade.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

UPDATE: The outdoor portion of the Mummers Parade has been postponed until Jan. 2 due to rain. The indoor portion will take place as planned in the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Jan. 1.

Sam Regalbuto, president of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association, is vaxxed, boosted, and ready to put on a show on New Year’s Day 2022 — even if it’s a less elaborate affair due to the rising costs of sequins and lumber.

Still, the Quaker City String Band vice president is aware plenty of people think a Mummers parade isn’t a good idea with coronavirus cases in Philadelphia reaching the highest seven-day average since the start of the pandemic.

» READ MORE: UPDATE: Mummer's Parade postponed due to rain

“We do what we need to do and follow the guidelines,” Regalbuto, 47, said of participating Mummers. “But I mean, we do have to start to learn to live with [the coronavirus].”

Bottom line: Mummers said they expect thousands of performers to strut Saturday morning, barring rain — alas, weather is not looking good with a 90% chance of precipitation expected in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day. And short notice that the celebration was even happening, fund-raising struggles, and, of course, coronavirus concerns have indeed made a small percentage of performers sit this year out.

As of Thursday, the city said it had no plans of canceling the parade due to the pandemic, although a Mummers spokesperson said rainy weather could postpone the outdoor portion. Attendees are required to wear masks along the parade route regardless of vaccination status and sick people are encouraged to stay home.

Some Mummers leaders have urged members to get vaccinated and one club is asking performers to get tested before the event. For others, performing is too much of a gamble.

“Even though we’re all vaccinated and we’re all boosted, and even though it seems like this might be the tail end of it, if everybody is catching it at the same time, I feel like it’s still kind of risky,” said Ian Morrison, founder of the Miss Fancy Brigade, one of the Mummers’ only LGBTQIA+ brigades.

The absence of the Miss Fancy drag kings and queens, a crowd favorite, showcases a smattering of logistical and health considerations that clubs took into account ahead of Saturday.

The parade ringing in the new year carries Mardi Gras energy and has gone strong for more than 120 years, with the five categories of clubs — String Bands, Fancy Division, Fancy Brigades, Wenches, and Comics. More recently, the parade kicks off at City Hall and performers make their way south along Broad Street.

Clubs coordinate sequined and plumed costumes according to certain themes, which can range from nods to popular culture to the political. Plenty of Mummers will tell you they’ve been marching in the parade for decades — 35 years for Regalbuto.

Last year, the city nixed all large events, including the Mummers Parade. A smaller “protest” parade did take place, only adding to a list of controversies that include the use of blackface and accusations of racist, homophobic, and sexist performances. This is the first year the city required all Mummers to prove they underwent sensitivity training.

The immediate criticism this year centers on public health concerns. For history buffs, this year’s parade is reminiscent of the September 1918 Liberty Loan parade, which attracted 200,000 spectators and acted as a superspreader event for the flu pandemic. Within days area hospitals filled with patients; thousands would die in a matter of weeks. With vaccines and mandatory masks, people like Regalbuto feel the parade should be no riskier than a concert or football game.

Going to the parade? Things to keep in mind:

  • There will be road closures along the parade route on Broad Street and some surrounding areas, so load up that SEPTA card for a smoother commute. 
  • The parade will kick off at 9 a.m. at City Hall but it’s recommended you set up your viewing spot early on. 
  • Don’t want to make the trip? You can watch on PHL17.

For more tips check out The Inquirer's handy guide.


What’s more, Mummers leaders describe a need for a morale boost for their members who’ve faced furloughs and lost work in the last two years, which makes it hard to justify paying dues to take part in a hobby.

While clubs say they generally work with anyone, regardless of whether they can pay dues, it translates to a smaller show budget. Restrictions on events where Mummers are hired to perform and double as fund-raisers coincided with increasing costs of wood, paint, sequins, and other costume materials.

For Tom Knight, 58, president of the Fancy Brigade Association, these challenges will only make Saturday sweeter.

“We’re putting on a 4½-minute Broadway show [at the Convention Center],” said Knight. “We’re going to be trying to entertain people and bring in a happy new year to celebrate, like we have in the past.”

For Melissa MacNair, 33, cocaptain of the Vaudevillains, a comic club performing in the parade since 2008, reconciling a desire to remain COVID-safe and meet the emotional needs of the brigade was challenging.

The Vaudevillains, however, have many members who identify as queer and don’t have traditional holiday gatherings with family, she said.

“This brigade is their chosen family,” explained MacNair. “This is it. This is their holiday tradition, and this is their family.”

Members haven’t gathered in two years, sticking to Zoom meetings instead. Even ahead of this year’s parade, the Vaudevillains avoided meeting in person. Their choreography was sent via a YouTube link and instead of making costumes as a group, they’re recycling old looks to avoid cramming in a room.

According to MacNair, some of the Vaudevillains most excited for the parade are restaurant workers and other front-liners who’ve been exposing themselves to the virus just by clocking in.

“They’ve been working tirelessly through this whole pandemic and they want a chance to see their people and have some enjoyment and feel joy to be around other people because it’s been really hard on them,” said MacNair.

That said, the Vaudevillains are recommending vaccinations and testing before showing up to the outdoor parade, and the group is skipping the usual “Two Street” celebration on South Second Street — the city encourages any celebrations to remain outdoors and people to wear masks unless eating and drinking. MacNair said the Vaudevillains were prepared to pull out if the virus outlook drastically worsened.

For other clubs, however, only a city order could stop the celebration, which leaders say they’d happily respect.

“The health department could say, ‘Hey, guys, look, we need to postpone this to the spring,’” said Regalbuto, president of the string band association. “I mean, we have to do what we have to do. We will follow the guidelines of the health department and do what it takes to keep everyone safe.”