There are few aspects of Philadelphia life more difficult to explain to outsiders than the Mummers Parade. It's basically a bunch of (mostly) guys, from (mostly) South Philly, who wake up at the break of dawn to swan around the city in elaborate costumes on New Year's Day.

To convey its importance, I usually tell people it results in twice the usual number of New Year's parties. Norms are put on hold, the police are more lenient (within reason), and revelers dress in gaudy costumes and imbibe in a fashion usually frowned on by both health care and law enforcement professionals. Occasionally an act goes too far - 2013's "Bringing Back the Minstrel Days" comes to mind - but such lapses are relatively rare. Neither the complex history of the Mummers, nor contemporary flashes of boorishness, should undermine the value of the parade. In a country where mass communal events are relatively rare, outside of costly concerts or sports games, the parade could be, should be, a moment of citywide fun.

"When I first saw the Mummers Parade - it was like a living archive of 19th-century theater practices," says Christian DuComb, a professor of English at Colgate University who is working on a book called Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia.

DuComb was a practicing Mummer until moving to upstate New York for the job. "It's a source of meaning and identity for a lot of communities in Philadelphia and that sense of identity is not dependent on the history of racism," he said. "Groups like the Vaudevillians and the Rabble Rousers [have emerged] from outside the traditional Mummers community, people who are not necessarily white ethnic or white working class, but bring their perspectives to the parade and have been accepted."

The parade begins at 10 a.m., outside City Hall at 15th and JFK, and then proceeds south on Broad Street punctuated by performances by the various troupes, before ending at Broad and Washington. A family viewing area will be at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, 901 S. Broad St.

Frolicking in the streets is highly recommended.