Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney canceled the city’s annual New Year’s Day parade in July — long before the region’s winter surge in coronavirus cases. But in a clear message of their disregard for a mayor they dismissed as “Killjoy Kenney,” a former Mummer himself, some Mummers came out to strut anyway on Friday.

The parade, a polarizing, long-held South Philadelphia tradition marked by live music, public drunkenness, and garish and sometimes-offensive costumes, was much smaller this year, with various groups dancing in the streets Friday morning — some with police escorts.

Several disparate groups, ranging in size from about 10 to 40 people, marched on and around Second Street between Snyder and Washington Avenues, many of them flanked by trucks decked out with loudspeakers. Some partygoers wore face masks, but many did not, including those clutching cans of Twisted Tea and light beer. Spectators in the neighborhood watched from their steps, while others stopped for a glance as they walked their dogs.

Most onlookers kept their distance.

A Mummer drinks beer while strutting during an unofficial Mummers parade in South Philadelphia on New Year's Day, 2021. The city canceled the official parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, but several hundred people gathered to celebrate, and to protest the city's decision.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A Mummer drinks beer while strutting during an unofficial Mummers parade in South Philadelphia on New Year's Day, 2021. The city canceled the official parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, but several hundred people gathered to celebrate, and to protest the city's decision.

The festivities took place even as the city’s COVID-19 rates remain high, after declining from a record high in mid-December. More than 92,000 people have tested positive in Philadelphia, and more than 2,400 have died as of Dec. 31. While the number of new cases has fallen in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, health officials expect a new surge of infections after Christmas. In the 19148 zip code, where much of the unsanctioned parade took place, there have been close to 400 new cases recorded in the last 14 days.

Undaunted by the pandemic, the Mummers who came out this year labeled their actions a protest, with some comparing it to last year’s massive Black Lives Matter marches.

But the scattered celebrations had all the trappings of what has emerged as a particular brand of South Philadelphia discontent: signs that supported President Donald Trump, blamed District Attorney Larry Krasner for the city’s crime rate, and expressed deeply held beliefs in personal freedom.

“It is what it is, you can’t take my rights away from me,” said Pat Kreschollek, a 35-year-old who marched on “Two Street” on New Year’s Day.

Other Mummers, however, said the unsanctioned parade was giving a bad name to the long-running tradition and its participants.

“We just want people to be safe,” said Sam Regalbuto, president of the Mummers String Band Association. “The five divisions have gotten together a lot in the last two months to try to do everything in our power to squash any type of protest or event.”

And a group identifying itself as the “Mummers Against COVID Denial Anti-S—head New Years Brigade” papered South Philadelphia homes with fliers asking them to “avoid the false parade.”

“Don’t embarrass our community, don’t embarrass Mummerdom,” one flier said.

Jimmy Dintino, a lifelong South Philadelphian, came out to watch the parade with his wife.

“Listen,” he said, as he took off his Phillies gloves to film the parade, “these people are making a statement. It’s a longtime South Philadelphia tradition and they wanna keep it going.”

Dintino, 66, said he wished more of them wore masks and practiced social distancing. But “these are young kids,” he said. “They were born and raised in the tradition of Mummery.”

So, while he said he understood why the city canceled the parade, he also understood why some marched in defiance. “I kind of respect that,” he said.

The Mummers have been criticized for years for their use of blackface — which appeared as recently as last year, even though the Mummers banned its use in 1964 — and other racist, sexist, and homophobic tropes in their performances.

This year, one sign took aim at Rachel Levine, the state’s health secretary, who has been repeatedly harassed for being transgender. The sign put Levine’s hair on Kenney’s face, above text that read: “Mayor Wench.”

Others took aim at Krasner, with a poster reading “Let Em Loose Larry.”

A police officer watches as Mummers celebrate during an unofficial Mummers parade in South Philadelphia on New Year's Day.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A police officer watches as Mummers celebrate during an unofficial Mummers parade in South Philadelphia on New Year's Day.

The city said it would not forcibly break up the parade. That was also its policy during this summer’s racial justice protests, when the police came under fire for disparities between how it treated protesters and armed mobs of mostly white men in South Philadelphia and Fishtown. Some Mummers said they should be able to march because Black Lives Matter protesters were allowed to do so.

Asked why some Mummers groups were given police escorts, spokesperson Cpl. Jasmine Reilly said the police provide escorts for all protests.

“From the intelligence we gathered on today’s events, this was marked as a protest, not a parade,” Reilly said.