By Rhonda Costello
Philadelphia boasts an incredible cultural heritage and prides itself on honoring and upholding its traditions - especially those that are uniquely Philadelphian.
Perhaps no tradition is upheld with more revelry, joy, and pride than the annual Mummers Parade on New Year's Day. As each new year begins, thousands of enthusiasts brave the cold, lining Broad Street - from South Philadelphia to City Hall - to watch the Mummers dance their way through Jan. 1.
Dressed in ornate costumes, with the famous String Bands playing and riding on elaborately decorated floats, the Mummers celebrate the year ahead. And beyond the thousands who cheer along Broad Street, more than two million tune in to watch the parade live from their homes on WPHL (Channel 17).
This grand tradition, which is chronicled so well by the Mummers Museum off Washington Avenue, dates to Swedish settlers in 1694, with a variety of cultures adding their unique flavor and customs over the centuries. In fact, the parade is one of the longest-standing events our city has.
For many, the most memorable of the Mummers groups is the historically elaborate Fancy Division. These participants are known for their extravagant yet intricately detailed costumes and floats. But the past few years have not been easy for this revered and beloved group.
The Fancy Division hit hard times in 2009 due to cuts in city funding, which eliminated prize money. Because of this change, by 2010, there were only three Fancy Clubs left. In 2012, there were two, and today, there is just one.
Golden Sunrise New Year's Association, which has participated in the Mummers Parade since 1960, is the last Fancy Club in the city. Its membership, which has been slowly decreasing since the 1980s, is down to a mere 28 people. Those 28 loyalists are the last representatives of the Fancy Division. In addition to marching in the parade each year, this small but passionate group engages local residents and the wider community, educating them about mummery, one of the United States' oldest forms of folk art.
The members sacrifice countless nights and weekends repairing their damaged clubhouse, protecting the cherished costumes from the ravages of a constantly leaking roof, and toiling with thread and needle to create new outfits to delight all of us every New Year's Day.
Thanks to recent media coverage, which highlighted Golden Sunrise's plight, an online fund-raising campaign was launched in October, but that only raised just over $1,000 to help the organization avoid shuttering its doors forever. Clearly there is a dire need to support this institution, before it fades into distant memory.
As most of the leadership team from Republic Bank hails from the area, we knew we had to do something - and quickly. After all, we're a regional bank committed to the neighborhoods and communities we serve. The Mummers Parade is one of the best examples of what makes this city and this region special. How could we stand by and watch the Fancy Division fold?
We simply couldn't. When we considered that the Golden Sunrise club has dedicated 51/2 decades of its members' time and talent to our city and to upholding one of our most time-honored traditions, we knew we needed to help. To ensure that the Golden Sunrise tradition will live on in 2015 and 2016 - at the very least - we have donated $10,000 to the club.
We are excited and proud to help organize additional events to raise awareness and more funds for the organization, with the goal of helping it not only survive, but thrive. We hope that the community will rally with us to ensure that Golden Sunrise and the Fancy Division live on for our children and grandchildren to enjoy and treasure.