New Year's Day isn't until Thursday, but Mummers mania was already kicking into gear yesterday as fans and the feathered alike celebrated MummersFest at the Convention Center.

In its 12th year, MummersFest started Saturday and goes through Wednesday. A family-friendly event, it gives folks a chance to strut into the spirit with hat-making, face-painting, music, rides and more.

Tonight at 6 p.m., Gov. Rendell is scheduled to receive the first Friend of the Mummers Award for his staunch support, event spokeswoman Kristen Insalaco said. Afterward, there will be a free sneak preview of the 11 Fancy Brigade routines.

Yesterday, people were already liking what they saw.

Diane Daly went with her 15-year-old daughter, Shannon Blaney, and niece Madison Daly, 11. They tried on Mummers costumes - so hot, so heavy! - and came away with newfound respect.

"I'm amazed how these men can get out there and dance like they do," Daly said.

Not that they hadn't already been won over.

"I like the music, the dancing, and everybody being together," said her daughter.

"You took the words out of my mouth," Daly replied. "Everyone's happy."

Of course, for the Mummers, there's a lot of work ahead, and that heady combination of excitement and pressure.

"It's starting to build now to a crescendo," said South Philadelphia native Jim Julia, president of the Mummers Fancy Brigade Association and captain of the Downtowners Fancy Brigade.

Floats will be worked on right up until New Year's Eve, Julia said, and, for the clubs, this year's special touches were, as always, closely guarded secrets.

William Francis Burke III of the Golden Crown club let go of one. His son William Francis Burke IV, who turns 10 months on New Year's Day, will become the fourth generation of Burkes to take part in the parade.

The club's theme is "Seacrets of the Deep," and the little guy will be a sequined lobster, his father disclosed.

For the Burkes, Mummery is a celebration of family and community.

"My father always jokingly said life is about your family, your friends, your faith and your feathers," said Burke, of Queen Village, an accountant when he's not a Mummer.

Also on hand yesterday was Robert H. Finnigan, who at 66 is celebrating his 50th year designing Mummers' costumes.

He designs for 14 clubs - eight of the Fancies and six String Bands. Many of his designs are on display at MummersFest.

Finnigan, of Voorhees, said he started when he was 16; some of his father's co-workers at the Navy Yard were Mummers, and they needed his artistic skills.

Finnigan went on to study design at Columbia University and had a career in visual marketing - not to mention his work of five decades with the Mummers.

What's his life like this time every year?

"Chaos," Finnigan said. "It's nonstop until New Year's. The best day of my life is Jan. 2, when it's all over, but I wouldn't change a thing. I love it."

Entry to MummersFest is $3 per person. Hours are 4 to 9 p.m. today, 4 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.