Even if you aren't in Philadelphia on New Year's Day, you can still experience this unique local institution. Famous for extravagant sequin-and-feather costumes and string bands, the Mummers spend the year preparing for the all-day parade up Market Street. A 45-inch screen shows filmed highlights of past parades.
Early English settlers brought to the colonies their Christmastime custom of dressing in costume and performing pantomimes—the name Mummers derives from
the German Mumme, meaning "mask" or "disguise." In Philadelphia, families would host costume parties on New Year's Day; on January 1, 1876, the first individual groups paraded informally through the city. The parade caught on, and by 1901 the city officially sanctioned the parade and 42 Mummers' clubs strutted for cash prizes.
These days the Mummers also stage a summer Mummers Parade around July 4 (during the city's Welcome America! celebration); in late February they present the "Show of Shows" at the Spectrum. The latter is a chance to hear the original 16-string bands perform indoors. The museum presents free outdoor concerts (weather permitting) on most Tuesday evenings 8–10 from May to September.