For more than 300 years - since the late 1600s - Mummers have marched in Philadelphia on New Year's Day. The official, city-sponsored Philadelphia Mummers Parade began on Jan. 1, 1901, as a way to formalize the celebration of the New Year.
For hundreds of thousands of fans across Philadelphia, the region, and the nation, it's a unique entertainment spectacle that showcases the vibrancy and tradition of one of America's great cities.
Part of what makes this event special is the fact that this is not a Hollywood-style production relying on professional actors and performers. The 10,000 Mummers who march in the parade each year proudly hail from the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and surrounding communities. That is why the Mummers Parade is often called the longest-running folk festival in America.
Here's something not widely known: While the New Year's Day Parade is the annual highlight, Mummers spend much of their time supporting causes within their communities - health-related fund-raisers, veterans' support efforts, and a host of other charity endeavors. For many, the commitment to the Mummers community is a family tradition, spanning generations.
Throughout the parade's existence, the divisions that make up the Mummers - the Comics, Fancies, Fancy Brigades, Wench Brigades, and String Bands - often based their performance themes on contemporary trends and issues. This is especially true for the Comics brigades, whose skits and parodies often poke fun at popular culture and well-known celebrities. Generally, these satirical send-ups are seen as harmless gibes. But as we've seen even with the best comedians, sometimes the jokes just fall flat.
Last year, a few isolated performances and individual behaviors were widely condemned for being insensitive and racist. Live video of the worst examples quickly spread across social media and were featured on TV news. Although the transgressions were due to a handful of the 10,000 or so participants in the parade, an unfortunate shadow was cast across the entire Mummers community.
The next day, Mummers leadership issued a news release condemning these abhorrent behaviors and banning the worst offenders from any future Mummers activity. We also committed to work with city and civic leaders and educators to develop and host training sessions for their membership on issues such as:
The proper use of satire
Being conscious of racial, ethnic, and social sensitivities, and
Understanding how thoughtless comments/actions can lead to anger and psychological duress.
Many of the materials used in these training sessions are posted on www.PhillyMummers.com.
Throughout 2016, we worked closely with city officials, including the Human Relations Commission, to avoid a repeat of ethnically, socially, or culturally insensitive routines or performances.
In preparing for the 2017 New Year's Parade, any club with an ethnic theme was required to reach out and include advisers of that ethnic group to ensure performances are done with respect and sensitivity. In addition, each Mummers brigade had to submit details about planned programs or skit themes, costumes, and makeup in advance so city officials can make recommendations on presentations that might be considered offensive. Mummers groups that don't comply with the information they submit will not be judged.
Furthermore, we continued to reach out to the city's growing and ethnically diverse population to join us in this long-running and uniquely Philadelphian tradition because we recognize that the only way to continue to grow and prosper is to showcase a parade that is inclusive and representative of all our citizens.
Joining the 2017 parade as part of the traditional Mummers divisions are several groups that debuted last year: the San Mateo Carnavaleros, representing their Mexican heritage; Second 2 None, an African American precision drill team; and the "Miss Fancy" Brigade, an LGBT group composed of the leading female impersonators in Philadelphia. In addition, we welcome two newcomers to the Mummers ranks - Southeast By Southeast, showcasing Philadelphia's Southeast Asian population, and the Philadelphia Pan Stars Steel Orchestra, a Trinidadian steel drum band.
All in all, we are confident that the lessons stemming from last year's unfortunate events - and the subsequent education and sensitivity training that have taken place - have been absorbed by the full Mummers membership. We look forward to a fun, festive, family-focused parade next weekend, one that will delight our fans everywhere.