Pandemic notwithstanding and rain delays aside, Philadelphia’s Mummers stepped into their golden slippers to strut down Broad Street on Sunday, reviving a 121-year-old tradition after a year on hiatus.
Marchers — some, but not all, of them masked — danced their way through the heart of the city, though some groups saw their numbers reduced as COVID-19 case numbers reached record highs in the region. Among those who did attend, many performances reflected the preoccupations of pandemic life, as well as this extraordinarily fraught political moment.
Paul Viggiano, a member of the comic Golden Slipper Brigade, said resuming the parade this year was “bittersweet.” Half of his group was missing, because they either have COVID-19 or are nervous to be in a crowd.
“It’s a shame because the weather is great for the parade,” Viggiano said, noting the unseasonably balmy temperatures in the 60s.
Several groups honored front-line health-care workers. The Two Street Stompers, for one, wore hospital-blue satin frocks with red cross badges and scrub caps in a salute to nurse “heroes.”
Other strutters opted to recycle or upcycle last year’s costumes, amid supply-chain challenges and other pandemic-related obstacles.
Also back this year: some of the political and racial currents that have made the parade a lightning rod for criticism. The troupes were required to undergo racial bias and cultural sensitivity training since 2020, when a wench group, Froggy Carr, was disqualified from the parade because a member wore blackface.
This year’s parade, however, did include several groups whose performances were based in ethnic caricature: One Fancy dressed as an East Asian-inspired “Jaded Goddess,” while another performed heiroglyphic-influenced hand movements to the song “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
Amid the wench groups in colorful frocks, several members held aloft signs decrying Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner — “Want Shots in Arms? Hire Krasner,” read one, held by a member of the Pirates New Year’s Brigade in a lab coat — as well as Mayor Jim Kenney and President Joe Biden.
One group, O’Malley NYA, shouted “Let’s Go Brandon,” a phrase that references a profane anti-Biden chant. Froggy Carr held up similar anti-Krasner and anti-Biden signs.
A comic club, Finnegan New Years Brigade, that performed a Monopoly-themed skit, featured “Get out of jail free!” cards with Krasner’s likeness. Mummers in several groups also hoisted thin blue line flags representing support for police.
Politics aside, attendance was relatively light, likely because of the postponement. It’s not clear how much nervousness about COVID-19 kept people away.
Ed Riesch, a member of the Jolly Jolly who said this was his 51st Mummers Parade, blamed low turnout on the city’s decision to end the parade route at Washington Avenue. ”They took a South Philly thing out of South Philly,” he said, nursing the seven-year-old injury of the controversial route change.
Yet, up and down Broad Street, parents such as Nicole Pogas danced joyfully with their children as the parade passed.
“This is the happiest day in the city,” said Pogas, while practicing her strut with her 6-year-old daughter, Anastasia. Pogas, who grew up in South Philadelphia and now lives in Fishtown, said she was happy to be outside, with no cars on Broad Street and no masks — though she conceded that not wearing a mask may have been ill-advised.
Patty Johnston, by contrast, was double-masked as she sat on a planter by herself. “To each his own. If they want to get sick, that’s on them. I don’t want to get sick,” said Johnston, who is from Atlantic City, but has family roots in South Philly. Her grandfather was a Mummer in the 1930s, she said.
Down the street, some spectators passed out signs opposing vaccine mandates — alleging that the mandates themselves are racist. “Don’t tread on Philly,” one sign read.
“My body is not to be owned by pharma, Pfizer or Moderna,” said Philadelphia resident Christina Sloat, one of the demonstrators.
As Spring Garden resident Gail Branson, 59, watched — her fifth year attending the Mummers Parade — she remarked that, in her view, it has become a bit more diverse.
“I would like to see it more inclusive,” said Branson.