Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" coming to you half alive from the environs of Philadelphia, PA! If I had a mind to do it, I could walk to Independence Hall from where I'm sitting right now. But I'd rather take the El. Can you spot me fare?
Philadelphia has a grand New Years Day tradition more than a century old. Just about everybody in the city dresses up in fabulous costumes and struts up the street in a 12-hour Mummers' Parade. We're talking 3000 men in frilly dresses. And that's just one division, aptly called "Wenches."
The highlight of the Mummers' Parade is a series of lavish productions by local amateur string bands and fancy brigades. These are jaw-dropping in quality, especially when you consider that the participants are not dancers or symphonic musicians, but rather longshoremen, carpenters, and other solid citizens of that sort.
And where they get these costumes is beyond me.
Note to Mummers: Please don't tell me they're made in China, even if they are.
The word on Mumming has always been that it springs from German origins. But quite by coincidence last Sunday evening, I caught a documentary on the local PBS channel called "Mummers and Masks." The documentary was made by a Canadian company that traced the antecedents of Mumming back to pre-Christian Britain, including Scotland, England, and Ireland.
Some of the most ancient forms of Mumming are still practiced in Ireland and in Newfoundland. The details vary from place to place, but all of the Mumming traditions have several things in common:
1. People dress up in strange costumes and entertain others with their antics.
2. The tradition is tied to the New Year.
3. The tradition often involves revelry with "rebirth of the sun" themes and/or fertility rites.
My guess is that Mumming occurred on October 31/November 1 in Pagan times (the county seat where I grew up had a "Mummers' Parade" on Halloween). The tradition moved to New Years' Eve/Day when the Christian calendar changed the dates of the New Year.
All I can say is that I'm not surprised to hear that Philly's yearly flirtation with sequins, feathers, and accordions springs from Pagan roots. And this is yet another fine tradition that survived smackdown by the One God Model.
Oh, dem golden slippers!