Philadelphia mummer at the parade
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Mummers Parade: Fiction to inspire attending Philadelphia’s unique New Year’s Day tradition

Immerse yourself in the fictional world featuring the very real oldest continual folk parade and Philadelphia New Year’s tradition: The Mummers Parade.

Photo credit: City of Philadelphia

The Mummers Parade, the oldest continual folk parade, takes place every New Year’s Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This 120 year old tradition features nearly 10,000 men, women and children. The parading troupes compete in elaborate costumes to win one of five division awards. Lucky for us, several authors have taken literary inspiration from this annual event. Read on to find the perfect book to bring the Mummers Parade to life.

History of the Mummers

The ancient Mummers (real and fictional!) were traditionally peasant folks who would dress in costume and perform short plays. Often the Mummers, donning enormous masks, would enter random homes and play silent games of dice. (Totally creepy! 😂) Exaggerated pantomime and, later, begging for food and alcohol after performing the skit or poem became a traditional part of mummery.

Photo credit: The Mummers Museum

In Philadelphia, over 40 organized clubs, whose membership often goes back generations, spend months all year preparing to win best in one of five divisions: Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands, or Fancy Brigades. In South Philadelphia, garage doors are more likely to open to boxes filled with sequined fabrics, feathers and wired frames than cars. Historically, Mummers plays were a way for the poor to mock the wealthy. Likewise, political and pop culture references are a normal and expected part of the Mummers Parade.

Photo credit: The Outline, Gabrielle Bonghi

While the New Year’s Day parade is unique to Philly, mummery dates back to ancient history in Egypt, Greece, Newfoundland and elsewhere, even fictional Westeros. Game of Thrones fans will find references to Mummers throughout the series!

When I was a young boy, before I was cut, I traveled with a troupe of mummers through the Free Cities. They taught me that each man has a role to play, in life as well as mummery.
— Varys to Eddard Stark

A Mummer, circa 2016: Photo credit, The Novel Tourist

Fortunately, the Game of Thrones series isn’t the only place bibliophiles can learn more about Mummers and mummery. Check out these books before you head to the parade or to indulge your thirst for folklore and weird New Year’s traditions!

Novels featuring Mummers

The Mummers’ Curse” by Gillian Roberts

In this novel starring Philadelphia schoolteacher Amanda Pepper, Gillian Roberts once again mixes mystery and mirth. This time Roberts explores Philadelphia’s unique flesh and blood “historical monument”– the Mummers, who live (and perhaps are willing to die) for a few hours of glory every New Year’s Day.

South Philly Castles” by James Cacciatore

Logan Cavaliere just wanted to spend the rest of his high school life safe and away from the weekends of drinking. However after a break up, and enticed by his friends, he is brought out of his short lived “retirement” and right into the middle of a neighborhood war between The Whitman Warriors and the Pennsport Boys, where Logan must choose a side. Meanwhile the annual Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day is fast approaching. The parade will bring together the neighborhoods of South Philly together for an entire night of partying and drinking.

Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

If you haven’t already met the fictional mummers of Westeros, get lost in George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular Game of Thrones series.

Mummers books for kids

The Mysterious Mummer” by L.M. Falcone

Juvenile readers will enjoy this frightfully funny novel by L.M. Falcone, where history and mystery collide during a creepy Maritime Christmas holiday.

The Mummer’s Song” by Bud Davidge

On a cold, clear winter night in Newfoundland, Granny frets that Christmas just isn’t the same without the mummers. Questioned by her two young charges, she begins to explain that mummering is an old Newfoundland custom that blends Christmas and Halloween, when suddenly . . . in through the door march several outlandishly costumed mummers! Granny’s house erupts in joking and tomfoolery, raucous singing and exuberant dancing. In an instant, Granny and the two children are caught up in the merriment!

A Moose Goes a Mummering” by Lisa Dalrymple

In this Newfoundland “Twelve Days of Christmas,” Chris Moose loves to go mummering. But everyone, from 2 giggling geese to 12 blushing beavers, sees through his festive costume. With bobbles, lights and garlands, Chris’ disguise grows more and more elaborate until he begins to wonder if he will ever find a way to keep his true identity from his friends!

Non-fiction books about Mummers

For an excellent non-fictional account of the origin and history of the Philadelphia Mummers, get immersed in one of these two documentary books:

Oh! Dem Golden Slippers: The Story of the Philadelphia Mummers”

“I was looking for a book that could provide me with a history of Philadelphia mummery and could provide “outsiders” with a description of what the parade is and why it is the way it is. This book contains the best description of the history of the mummer’s parade that I have yet read. It talks in a manageable amount of detail about the (probable) origins of the parade and gives a decent history of some of the more well-known brigades that have marched.” – Amazon review by Coubou

“Philadelphia Mummers”

For many, mummery is a way of life. The first official parade occurred in 1901, but it is an evolving tradition, reflecting both the challenges and opportunities of changing times. Philadelphia Mummers tells the story of modern-day mummery and the expressions of art, freedom, and celebration of thousands of people who come together in the working-class spirit of America’s oldest annual folk parade.

Finally, if you do make it to Philadelphia, be sure to stop by the Mummers Museum for all things Mummer!

Happy New Year! May all your fictional aspirations become reality!

Oh hey, if you decide you want to buy any of the books featured above, I appreciate you using the links in the post. Purchasing through the links costs no extra to you, but I receive a small commission that helps keep The Novel Tourist going. Thanks for your support!

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