Want to kick off the new year with a mega, Mardi-Gras-like party? Now in its 120th year, Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade draws thousands of people together for an all-day celebration featuring lavishly costumed performers marching their way down Broad Street. Here’s where and how to join the festivities, how you can survive the traffic chaos, and, if you’re new to Philly, a little bit about what the hell is going on.
How to watch
Take transit. With many road closures surrounding the route, it’s highly encouraged to use SEPTA for commuting to the parade. Buses around City Hall and the parade route will be detoured. Information regarding bus detours, alerts, and New Year’s scheduling can be found on septa.org.
Arrive early to get a good spot. Visitors can bring lawn chairs to set up on Broad Street. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s, so dress in layers and consider bringing hand warmers if you plan to stay until the sun goes down. (Can’t find hand warmers? It’s not that hard to make them yourself.)
If you need a place to warm up, stop by the Kimmel Center’s free New Year’s Day celebration. Activities and live music are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Upstairs, the Broad Street Bash ($85) offers brunch fare, Bloody Marys, and balcony views of the parade from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; a cash bar will open at 3:30 p.m. to the public.
Time and location
The parade begins at 9 a.m. at City Hall. A main judging stand is near the start at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. While the parade is free to attend, spectators can purchase bleacher seating in this area. Tickets are $20 and can be acquired at the Independence Visitor Center or by calling 800-537-7676.
The parade travels south along Broad Street to Washington Avenue, where it ends by 6 p.m. Afterward, many of the performers head to South Second Street, known as Two Street, for a boisterous party that continues into the night.
The Fancy Brigades are first in the parade lineup. Upon finishing the route, they relocate to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the Fancy Brigade Finale. Shows are held at 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., inviting families to watch choreographed routines indoors. Tickets cost between $22 and $35, and can be purchased in advance online or by calling 800-298-4200.
While participants perform all along the way, designated performance areas are scattered throughout the route for brigades to present choreographed routines.
The first is at Broad and Sansom, where only the String Bands perform.
The second is at Broad and Pine, where Fancies, Wenches, Comics, and Fancy Brigades perform.
The final area is at Broad and Carpenter for all groups.
What are the Mummers, anyway?
The basics. The Mummers Parade is made up of around 40 clubs split into five categories — Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands, and the Fancy Brigades. Each category has its own signature performance specialty, and all compete against each other for bragging rights. The Wench and Comics groups are known for scheming up satirical themes. The Fancies don costumes both magnificent in size and beauty. The String Bands are filled with saxophone, banjo, accordion, violin, bass fiddle, drum, and glockenspiel players. And the Fancy Brigades create elaborate and theatrical performances (such as a costume of the Magic Gardens, arguably the most Philly thing ever), performed both during the parade and afterward at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In the end, judges declare winners.
The history. The Mummers Parade grew out of traditions that came over with waves of European immigrants into Philadelphia. The name comes from the centuries-old English mummers plays; the word traces back to the god Momus of Greek mythology, who represents mockery and satire. The modern parade has been an official event since 1901, after reporter and theater promoter H. Bart McHugh pitched the idea to the mayor as a way of controlling “historically chaotic celebrations.” McHugh worked with councilman John H. Baizley, who drew upon his past as a leader of a neighborhood gang, which would dress up for Halloween-esque trick-or-treating. The parade was originally called the Shooters Parade, because firing guns in the air "was a macho ritual with these South Philadelphia urban cowboys,” The Inquirer wrote in 2000.
The controversy. The parade has had its problems over the years, including its use of blackface, and depiction of Indians, Native Americans, Mexicans, LGBT people, and other groups. In 2016, this led to some sensitivity training, but that hasn’t ended controversy: Last year, a skit involving someone depicting Jay-Z walking someone depicting Mayor Jim Kenney on a leash reignited the debate about the Mummers and minstrelsy.
Road closures and parking restrictions
On Jan. 1, it’s better to avoid driving anywhere near the parade route. Parking restrictions begin on Dec. 27 along portions of the parade route. Most parking and traffic restrictions will be lifted once the parade concludes.
No parking on 15th Street from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to South Penn Square; (from 6 p.m. Dec. 27 until 6 p.m. Jan. 2).
Reduced lanes on 15th Street from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to South Penn Square; (from 7 a.m. Dec.28 until Jan. 2). 15th Street may be closed completely for short intervals during this time.
No parking on the west side of 15th Street from Arch Street to Ranstead Street; (from 6 p.m. Dec. 29 until 6 p.m. Jan. 2).
15th Street closed to southbound traffic at John F. Kennedy Boulevard from 10 a.m. to noon
No parking on Market Street from 15th Street to 21st Street, both sides (from 4 a.m. Dec. 31 until 6 p.m. Jan. 1).
No parking on John F. Kennedy Boulevard from Juniper Street to 20th Street, both sides (from 4 a.m. Dec. 31 until 6 p.m. Jan. 1).
15th Street will be closed to vehicular traffic from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to Market Street(from 10 a.m. Dec. 31 until 7 a.m. Jan. 2).
Market Street will be closed to vehicular traffic from 15th Street to 16th Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; at 3 p.m., Market Street will reopen and traffic will be permitted to travel eastbound on Market Street to 15th Street and continue southbound on 15th Street.
15th Street closed to vehicles from Arch Street to Chestnut Street (from 3 a.m. until the parade is over).
Market Street closed to vehicles from 15th Street to 16th Street (from 3 a.m. until the parade is over).
Broad Street closed to vehicles from South Penn Square to Washington Avenue (from 7 a.m. until the parade is over)
No vehicles will be allowed to cross Broad Street while the parade is in progress; delays can be expected during the course of the event; motorists are advised to avoid the area.
Additional Parking Restrictions on Jan. 1
Temporary no parking zones will be in effect from 2 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 1 for both sides of street unless otherwise noted:
Broad Street from Arch Street to Ellsworth Street
Juniper Street from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to South Penn Square (east side)
South Penn Square from Juniper Street to 15th Street
Benjamin Franklin Parkway from 16th Street to 20th Street
North Side of Logan Circle
North Broad Street from Cherry Street to John F. Kennedy Boulevard
16th Street from Chestnut Street to Race Street
17th Street from Ben Franklin Parkway to Ludlow Street
18th Street from Race Street to Ludlow Street
19th Street from Ben Franklin Parkway to Chestnut Street
19th Street from John F. Kennedy Boulevard to Market Street
1500 block of Ranstead Street
1300 block of Carpenter Street
1000 block of South 13th Street
Chestnut Street from 15th Street to 18th Street (north side)
Cherry Street from 15th Street to 17th Street
Arch Street from 15th Street to 17th Street
Washington Avenue from 12th Street to 18th Street