It was a Code Blue Monday, and cops should have been sweeping characters off the frigid streets and into shelters, but that is not the Mummers Way on New Year’s Day.
On Jan. 1 in Philadelphia, marchers in the 118th edition of the city-sanctioned parade formed west and north of City Hall on barren streets under blue skies. They stepped off at 9:09 a.m. when given the order.
There were reasons why the parade shouldn’t have gone on Monday — the health of the marchers and the freezing of musical instruments. But there was one important reason why it should — tradition. While rain, snow and high winds postponed several editions of America’s largest spontaneous folk parade, never had one been postponed because of low temperatures.
When weather tested the Mummers’ mettle this year, they strapped on their back pieces, lined their golden slippers with newspaper (see, we are still good for something), picked up hand warmers, and strutted out onto the tundra.
It’s hard to say how many of the expected 10,000 Mummers marchers and musicians developed cold feet and slept in, but the dangerously low temperatures kept many fans away. (Confession: I was not on the street because I am rehabbing from surgery. My coverage comes from TV and my “deputies” on the street.)
The scarcity of on-street fans would continue all day, but that is not to say there were no spectators. Just as the parade started, Sammy the Bull tweeted, “If you think I’m going to the Mummers Parade in sub zero temperatures and risk my immune system, you are absolutely right.”
Parade attendance was down, but “not awful,” in the words of one longtime parade watcher, who noted the morning crowds had gathered on the west side of Broad to catch the rays from the sun. By the time of the string bands, experienced attendees switched to the east side to catch the dying rays of the sun.
Parade director Leo Dignam told me the parade was moving more slowly than usual because of the presence of the warming buses, but that was expected. Despite the cold, there were numerous young children in the parade, mostly with the comics and wenches divisions.
Even before the start of parade, some wench brigades, including the enormous and raucous Froggy Carr, marched north on Broad Street to assembly points near City Hall, a tribute to the traditional northern parade route that was reversed south in 2015, pretty much out of desperation as parade attendance numbers fell. (The parade also was relocated to Market Street a few times as an experiment.)
The reversal of the parade route was the most profound change to the parade since 1998, when the fancy brigades abandoned judging at City Hall and marched into the Convention Center for the first time, where they have thrived.
This year was the second-coldest temperature for a Mummers Parade, following 1918, according to PHL17.
Why did they march? Because of tradition? Because they are Mummers? Because they are crazy?
Maybe all three.