The earliest Mummers were Comics and Fancies. Some masqueraded as “Dudes” or “Wenches.” Comics may be individual or group performers and smaller wench brigades. These performers operate within large “mother” clubs and flow along the parade route with humor ranging from the sarcastic to slapstick. Political and pop-culture references are common. Many children are involved in this division.
The Fancies were just what the word describes, using fancier, more ornate costuming. In the mid-1900’s, a Fancy Captain’s cape could be a block long and supported by many “pages.” The Fancies have had their own categories of judging such as “Handsome Costume,” “Handsome Trim,” “King Clown,” “King Jockey,” and “Fancy Trio.”
The Wench Brigade Division contains the largest of the wench brigades, Mummers dressed in traditional Mummers garb of a dress, matching hat or scarf, bloomers, a Mummers parasol or umbrella, sometimes multi-tiered, and of course, the Golden Slippers.
The String Bands trace their heritage to the late 1800’s, but rapidly grew in the first part of the 20th Century. While they have evolved over the years into more theatrical productions with props, along with their instrumentation, one rule has remained unchanged: No brass instruments are allowed. Saxophones, banjos and percussion dominate the bands.
The Fancy Brigades were formed from the Fancy Division. The Brigades developed more “Broadway-like” energetic performances involving dozens of club members and perform their shows inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center on New Year’s Day.
While New Year’s Day is the grand public moment for Mummers, it just begins to describe what Mummery means to its members, to their neighborhoods and to the City of Philadelphia. Mummery is part of the economic and social fabric of the city. Members are goodwill ambassadors around the world and are always entertaining the sick, the elderly, and children and raising money for numerous good causes.
A Mummer wears the name with pride.