Dennis Pellegrino has a win streak to protect in the Mummers Parade - nine first-place prizes in the club-captain category and counting. He hopes his oldest child's idea for a theme will keep the tradition alive.
Nearly four years ago, the day after a parade, Nicholas gave his father a sketch of a pirate ship on graph paper, complete with dimensions, a treasure chest, and, of course, pirates. The child, now 13, has for several years begun thinking ahead to the next New Year's Day the day after each parade.
Pellegrino, captain of the Murray Comic Club, used most of his son's vision for this year's theme, "A Pirate's Life for Me."
"If we win first place, I'm sure he'll be puffing his chest out," said Pellegrino, a financial planner. "If we don't, he'll tell me I did something wrong."
In the Murray club's home, a second-floor space above a transmission shop in South Philadelphia, Pellegrino and his "pit crew" taped and drilled pieces Monday to the 18- to 20-foot-long pirate ship. They plan to work at it every day, at least until noon New Year's Eve, to prepare for the 110-year-old parade.
Other Mummers units were putting final touches on props and comic acts as well. Among them were an unfinished giant tequila-bottle costume, and an igloo for a fiesta with peppers; a police van for an Occupy Broad Street act; and a "Lying King" costume awaiting the head of the president.
All the acts fall under the Murray Comic Club, one of several clubs in Sunday's parade.
"There is a misconception that comics get ready the night before. It doesn't happen that way," said Rich Porco, a longtime president of the nearly 76-year-old club, which says it has 1,800 members.
The club has collected donations for Easter Seals and sent packages to soldiers overseas.
On New Year's Day, the comic club has won 13 consecutive first-place prizes, a record for any division, Porco said.
On Monday, there were pieces of wood, petal paper, and Styrofoam throughout the warehouse. Mummers kept busy at their work stations, and Porco's youngest daughter, Jessica, buzzed about the floor.
Monday was her 32d birthday, but she had been up since 7:30 a.m. handling last-minute details. The club's treasurer, she stood on a ladder sifting through sequins and feathered costumes, and handing them out to performers.
At one point, she grabbed her head and said she didn't feel organized, though she had neatly written down on a note pad who was wearing what costume.
"I never, ever get a break [on my birthday], but I love it," she said.
The Mummers Parades are so much a part of her family's life that when her mother brought her home as a newborn on New Year's Day in 1979, her father was not there. "He was at a parade," she said.
Over the years, the parades have drawn regulars such as Chris Moscatelli, 49, a steamfitter at the University of Pennsylvania and a cocaptain in the Golden Slipper New Year's Brigade.
Moscatelli and several childhood friends, including Anthony Mazzone, were part of another brigade before starting Golden Slipper in 1989. The brigade grew from about 25 members to more than 100 over the last 22 years.
Mazzone, 50, has been a Mummer for 43 years. He has marched when he had pneumonia and hobbled up Broad Street on crutches.
His 23-year-old son and Moscatelli's 19-year-old son have marched in the parades all their lives.
"It's in your blood," said Mazzone, also a Golden Slipper cocaptain.
On Monday, the Golden Slipper crew worked on its "Hot Chilly Peppers" prop, a Mexican-themed display with a heavy focus on the peppers.
Mummers will portray "chilly" peppers and wear scarves and wool hats, and dance to Vanilla Ice's only hit, "Ice Ice Baby," Moscatelli said. As for the "hot" peppers, those Mummers will wear sombreros and dance to Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot."
The props, like others, will involve children. The youngsters will pop out of a pot - a cauldron built of wood, and covered with black and orange petal paper - and climb out of a Styrofoam and wood igloo.
Meanwhile, adult Mummers will do a conga line and salsa dances as part of the two-minute skit.
"You've got to have 100 people doing something," Moscatelli said.
The brigade still had to finish building the tequila bottles - barrels with portions cut out for arms and two buckets screwed atop.
"No fiesta would be complete without tequila," Moscatelli said.