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From Mummers to Mashed Potatoes: A Toast to Philadelphia's New Year's Eve History

Town Law Publishing Dec. 31, 2023

From Mummers to Mashed Potatoes: A Toast to Philadelphia's New Year's Eve History

Philly and New Year's Eve – a pairing as vibrant and diverse as the city itself. While the celebrations may echo the global traditions of champagne toasts and countdown kisses, Philadelphia's history paints a unique and fascinating picture of a holiday steeped in local pride, quirky customs, and a dash of good-natured chaos. So, grab your mummer's strut and a steaming mug of scrapple, as we delve into the history of New Year's Eve in the City of Brotherly Love.

Early Echoes: From Colonial Times to Revolutionary Revelry

Philadelphia's New Year's Eve traditions have their roots in the city's very foundation. In the 17th and 18th centuries, colonists celebrated with church bells, bonfires, and festive meals, mirroring European customs. These celebrations, however, weren't always calm and collected. In 1749, a raucous New Year's Eve mob tore down signs and pelted passersby with eggs, foreshadowing the city's penchant for lively revelry.

The American Revolution injected a new kind of excitement into the festivities. New Year's Eve 1777 saw General George Washington lead his troops in a triumphant march through the city, celebrating their recent victory at Trenton. This fusion of revelry and patriotism became a recurring theme in Philadelphia's New Year's Eve traditions.

A Century of Customs: From Mummers to Mischief

The 19th century saw the rise of the beloved Philadelphia Mummers Parade, a vibrant spectacle of costumes, music, and New Year's cheer. While its roots predate the 1800s, the Mummers Parade grew into a defining feature of Philadelphia's New Year's Eve, showcasing the city's artistic spirit and playful energy.

However, it wasn't all glitter and feathers. The 19th century also saw Philadelphia grapple with the darker side of New Year's Eve revelry. Alcohol-fueled brawls, noisy celebrations, and property damage became a growing concern. City officials enacted curfews and cracked down on public drunkenness, adding a layer of tension to the festive atmosphere.

The 20th Century: Modernity and Mischief

The 20th century brought modernization and new traditions to Philadelphia's New Year's Eve. Fireworks displays on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway became a popular attraction, drawing crowds to witness dazzling illuminations against the city skyline. New Year's Eve parties in hotels and ballrooms gained popularity, offering a more sophisticated alternative to street celebrations.

Despite the changes, the spirit of Philadelphia's New Year's Eve remained mischievous. Pranksters continued their antics, from dropping water balloons from rooftops to staging mock arrests. These lighthearted misadventures added a touch of Philly flavor to the festivities, even as police patrolled the streets with greater vigilance.

New Year's Eve Today: A City that Never Sleeps

Today, Philadelphia's New Year's Eve celebrates its eclectic past while embracing the present. The Mummers Parade remains a cornerstone of the celebration, drawing over 15,000 participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators. Meanwhile, fireworks continue to light up the sky, and restaurants, bars, and clubs offer diverse atmospheres for revelers to ring in the new year.

But Philadelphia's New Year's Eve wouldn't be complete without a touch of mischief. Mummers may substitute feathers for water balloons, but the playful spirit persists. Whether it's a friendly snowball fight in Rittenhouse Square or a costumed reveler belting out a New Year's Eve serenade, Philly finds a way to make the holiday its own.

A Toast to the Future: A Legacy of Revelry and Resilience

As we raise a glass (or a mug of scrapple) to the new year, we celebrate Philadelphia's unique New Year's Eve traditions. From colonial bonfires to Mummers strutting down Broad Street, the city's history is woven into the fabric of the festivities. Philadelphia's New Year's Eve is a testament to the city's spirit – a vibrant blend of history, heritage, and a healthy dose of mischievous merriment. So, let the fireworks roar, the Mummers strut, and the good times flow as Philadelphia welcomes the new year with open arms and a twinkle in its eye. Happy New Year from the City of Brotherly Love!