Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mumming--It's Not Just For Old People On Two Street Anymore

Philebrity has a post on Nerd Island, a new mummer brigade which directly tries to appeal to younger artists and activists in the Philly area.

For those who don't know, the Mummer's Parade is held on New Year's Day here in Philadelphia; it's a day-long parade of people in costumes, divided into four groups--comics, string bands, fancies (which combine elements of comics and string bands with small floats), and the fancy brigades, which have very elaborate, feather- and sequin-covered costumes.

It's something to see, usually while drunk--which is OK, since the comics are usually still drunk from the night before. All of which is keeping in the tradition of mumming, which goes back to medieval Europe. Mumming plays, wren boys, the Mari Lwyd, and the Philadelphia Mummers are all part of a larger tradition wherein the working classes (both urban and agricultural), given freedom from work for two weeks, drank and ate and partied, often to the dismay of their social "betters". It's one of the reasons the Puritans outlawed Christmas in both Britain and America in the 17th century (see the fantastic The Battle for Christmas for more on this).

What's interesting about Nerd Island is that unlike the other brigades, these aren't from the old neighborhoods--these are young people, seeing an opportunity to carry on a tradition, while getting it back to its anarchic roots. Like the best comic brigades, they're using pop culture and politics for their inspirations (for Nerd Island, it's the environment), and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, taking donations for charity (in this case, Haiti).

This is one reason I love Philly--here we have this drunken, crazy parade, and it's entirely keeping with a medieval tradition, even if we don't realize it.

Plus ├ža change...

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