The 2010 Mummers Parade

As a bass saxophone player, I have long had a fascination with string bands. Therefore, the Philadelphia New Year’s Day tradition of the Mummers Parade was something that had piqued my curiosity since I first heard about it. However, the thought of marching with a bass saxophone on a cold New Year’s Day—or any day actually—for miles along a parade route, seems just a bit, well, crazy to me.

The 2010 Mummers Parade was the 110th  time this event has been held. The weather cooperated this year as the sun shone down on the participants and spectators. Despite this good weather however, on January 2, reported that the crowd had been somewhat smaller than normal.

Every year the Mummers attempt to wow the crowds and judges alike. This year again they competed in the four traditional categories:  

The clownish comics, ornately costumed fancies and the show-stopping string bands [which] all marched down Broad Street before performing for judges outside City Hall. The fancy brigades [then] performed their elaborate production numbers for ticketed crowds at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.


The 2010 parade heralded a change for the Mummers. Apparently last year the city of Philadelphia decided that special events would have to pay their own costs. For this year the Mummers have agreed to pay the city nearly $150,000 in associated costs, such as those related to policing and sanitation.

In an effort to further reduce costs, the city also decided to no longer provide prize money for the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade. This too was effective as of 2010.

The economy is certainly wreaking havoc on this Philadelphia tradition, and the cash crunch is hitting the Mummers hard this year. One of the top costume designers for the Mummers,

The economy is affecting everything, and not even the sequins and feathers that are staples of Mummers costumes have been spared.

Bob Finnigan, noted that the average price of a costume will come down about $300, from $1,000 to $700. The bands are using fewer sequins, more fabric, and fewer backdrops that roll along with the performers. In some cases the bands are using smaller feathers, and less metallic fabrics. (Metallic fabrics reflect television lights better.) 

Apparently it costs approximately $120,000 to get a band on the street. The costumes make up about ½ of that cost. Taking a look at these photos, it’s not hard to see how the money soon adds up in costume costs.

   The Polish American String Band


    Photography by: The West End   Source: Flickr

  Woodland String Band


   Photography by: ianturton  Source: Flickr

Hopefully the Mummers will continue to find ways to keep their centuries old tradition alive.

The Mummers did have some celebrity assistance in December ’09 when the Bacon Brothers (Michael and Kevin), who are natives of Philadelphia, held a benefit concert. There were 5,000 DVDs pressed of the concert, and are available through

If you’d like to find out more about the Mummers, and their rich history, check out their website at

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2010, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.



    I recently found another video, but this is the day before and with Fralinger String Band. No costumes just moves.

  2. The Mummer’s Parade comes from the old string bands that were amateur at best in the 1800’s and continuing into the 1900’s until the Parade was established where everyone could organize and have a wonderful parade.
    The Musicians would play “their modern-day one hit wonders” down the street, including “Golden Slippers” (it’s pretty much the mummer’s national anthem now.)
    The Mummer’s originated in northern Europe around Poland, Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, and other countries within the vicinity. There would be plays and drawn-out skits with costumes with a main theme compared to “opposite day” where kings would be amongst the poor and the poor would be considered kings. This is known as the old Christmas in Europe. However the Puritans did not like this “old Christmas” and decided to bring in a new belief system and with it came the Santa, and holly trees, and yule tide songs, and hymns that we still sing to this day. They could not establish this holiday within Europe, so they moved onto the New World where “sins could be averted from a day upon day”. Therefore Saturnalia was not brought over from the Old World.
    Now Saturnalia was to appease Saturn, the Roman God of Harvest.
    More of this can be explained on:

    This was the equivalent of Christmas to Romans – Saturnalia

    After many decades and centuries, the Saturnalians still live on through the Mummers.

    The Motto of the Mummer’s is:
    “Here we are at your door,
    Like we did the year before,
    Give us Whiskey, Give us Gin,
    Open up and let us in”

    I think you can find that quote inside of the mummer’s museum (at 2nd st. and Washington st. in Philadelphia) as well as with Polish American’s theme for 2010.

    I hope you all had a safe and happy New Year’s


    Here’s a link to Broomall’s performance. This is the string band I went up with for New Year’s Day. I found it surprising that you liked the Mummer’s Parade. You’re welcome anytime to play with us. Broomall string band’s clubhouse is in National Park, NJ.
    We did a barnyard theme this year and the camera crew cut off about 20 seconds of our routine. If you look at the baris, I’m not in there, because I’m playing bass saxophone in the back of the horseshoe for the opening number.
    Hope you enjoy watching it.
    I’m off to bed.
    …..and thank you for posting the mummers on here, Helen.

    @ Mal-2
    Yes I’ve been away for a while, taking care of college business for my education. The top 10 or so bands only let in men, because that’s how the bands used to and still operate. With the other bands, they pretty much fight as bottom feeders (Irish American, Trilby, Broomall, Aqua, Hegeman, Greater Overbrook, and a couple others.) For this year there was only 17 bands, last year was 18, and during the 80’s there would be a total of 28 string bands at one time going down Broad St.
    When the string bands started marching in 1901 there was no prize money and only 3 bands, none of which exist anymore. In 1915 Fralinger String Band started up and is the oldest running band to this day. In 2008 the prize money was somewhere around $13,000.00 for the top band and $7,600.00 for the last place band.
    Sadly, today they do not have prize money, but we do have judges and scores that we can rely on to place each other and improve on what we earned.
    The band with the most first place prizes would have to be Ferko String Band (formed in 1922) with 20 wins, 2nd is Fralinger with 17 first place prizes, and 3rd is Quaker City with 15.
    There are 16 string bands with charters, stating that a string band has to march every year with 40 to 64 musicians and X amount of others with a captain down broad st. Now, a band can ONLY miss 2 New Year’s Day Parades before the charter is sold. With that in mind, the older bands have pretty much stuck it out with time. If a charter is sold they have to add something to the name, for instance: “Trilby String Band” was changed to the “Original Trilby String Band”. You keep the former name, but add onto it.
    The youngest string band in the Parade is Irish American (formed in 1999.)

    If you have any questions or are just curious please state after this post. Thank you.

    • Happy New Year Chris.

      Thanks so much for the link to the Broomall’s performance. That was an amazing performance. Wow!

      You guys were great! I totally agreed with what the commentator said about the decision to keep the sax section together, therefore giving the whole thing a bigger sound.

      It would be a lot of fun to do something like that. When I lived in the Maritimes I would have loved to have come down and participated. That would have been a great time. I might even have done it with my bass. (I could still walk in a straight line then. Now I tend to stagger like a drunk. 😈 )

      I hope that the Mummers can find the funds to keep the tradition alive. Just as important, I hope the city of Philadelphia reinstates some of its support to this event. I’ve been on the board of an organization that holds major parades. During economic hard times the city may have cut back on its support, but has never made the the organization pay for things like increased policing.

      I fully understand how much time and effort goes into the fund raising. I can easily see this being a year-round job for the bands.

        Here’s a video of the mummers in 1985, about 25 years ago. I wasn’t born yet, but if you check out @ 4:34 you will be able to see the bass saxophones in the front line.

        There’s a lot of families that go with the mummer’s traditions and many generations. For instance, me, my father, my more than a few uncles, a couple great-uncles, my mother, and one great-great-uncle. My great-great-uncle was Patrick Halpin and he marched in only 4 parades but inspired the rest to go in and enjoy music.
        I play saxophones and accordion with the string band I’m in.
        My mother played clarinet and alto saxophone back in the 80’s.
        My father played banjo and mandolin also in the 80’s.
        and the rest are assorted. 🙂

        If any of you people in the web want to join, just email me and I can give a contact for a band. The mummers are based mainly out of Philadelphia, uptown string band is about 40 miles out of Philly to the west. (Saxophone / string / and accordion players only, thank you.)

  4. Thanks for that link Mal-2.

    According to everything I read, it was Fralinger’s 8th straight win. I don’t know if there was any prize money available. We just know that the city didn’t contribute any.

    Chris, a regular reader of this weblog, is a member of one of these bands… I just don’t know which. He participates every year in the Mummers Parade. Hopefully when he reads this post, he’ll leave a comment & tell us a bit more.

    Hey Chris… You there… Paging Chris… Tell us more about the parade this year. Details. We’d love some details. Also… What’s the name of the band you play in? Any pictures of your band’s costumes?

  5. Thought I’d add this where it seemed appropriate:

    I don’t know if Fralinger has ever won before, but even if they have, it must kinda suck to be the first winner with no prize. 😥

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