YOU'RE NOT a

real Philadelphian until you've been to the Mummer's parade. I'm not talking about watching it from the comfort of your living room, switching back and forth between the Fancies and whatever Bowl game catches your own fancy. I'm talking about being there, on Broad Street, stamping your feet against the cold (and probably getting them soaked in an early-morning reveler's urine.) It's not always pretty. And it's not always enjoyable.

But it's Philly, people.

Sure, there are those who say that the Mummers are just a bunch of overgrown juveniles tricked out in sequins and feathers, throwbacks to a time when people had patience for an eight hour two-step from South Philly to City Hall. Now, yawn, ho-hum, it's so passé.

And this year, they've gone beyond yawning. Noses and fists raised, they point to the depressed economy and attack Mayor Nutter for his willingness to fund the Mummers to the tune of $300,000 about $50,000 less than the total cost for the parade. (Also, the city will offer no prize money.) The Mummers will have to make up the difference.

It is a bit difficult to justify paying for a parade which, in years past, has earned its fair share of criticism. Some think it's too long (it is). Some think it's too rowdy (please, this is not some Disney extravaganza where the smiles are as plastic as the floats). Some say it's exclusionary, that there aren't enough black or brown or yellow faces among white ones.

I guess they haven't been looking at the crowds. It's a veritable rainbow out there.

But I do see where the fiscally conscious would be annoyed that the mayor is going to close libraries and drastically curtail city services but still finds enough change at the bottom of his municipal wallet to pay for some exuberant fellows in drag. It seems so, well, unnecessary.

Except that it's not. And here's why. A city is more than just its architecture, its amenities, and the low body-fat index of its citizens. It is more than its world-class medical centers, its elite educational institutions, and its ability to dig you out of a snow storm. It is more than loud-mouthed politicians with their parochial views, more than special interest groups, more than good-government types who never had a moment of frivolous joy.

A city, my friends, is also made of intangibles. The things that make your heart leap when returning from a long stay abroad, as mine often does when I spy the sparkling lights on the Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin bridges as my plane taxies home. The sense that we have a history that extends beyond the last administration, something that defined our grandparents and will define our grandchildren. The feeling that no matter where we end up in our travels, a part of us will always remain on that street corner or in that parish pew.

And that is why the Mummers matter, and why Mayor Nutter is right to extend a helping hand. You may not think the parade is fabulous or interesting. You might be annoyed that the city is choosing the instant gratification of a New Year's Day extravaganza to a solid investment in the future of inner city children.

But it's wrong to say that the Mummers or, for that matter, the party we threw when the Phillies won the World Series was a waste of valuable resources. Anything that reminds us of who we are, where we came from, and what we are capable of is something worth preserving. The looks on the faces of the adults at that Phillies parade were priceless. Even more than the dazzled children, it was the middle-aged man and woman who reflected just how important it was to have that win.

And so it is with the Mummers. I will be there on New Year's Day, not because I think I'll find something new to spark my interest but because I'll be celebrating something old that reminds me of joyous times. My father used to take me to see the Mummers strut, and he's no longer with us. My brother would sit on his shoulders, and he too is now gone. Watching the revelers on Broad Street helps me reconnect with them, and with the city that is the backdrop of my memories.

It's like the light show at Wanamaker's. Priceless.

Or at least worth 300 grand. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.