Every New Year’s Day for the past decade, Carl Sanchez has been strumming his banjo in the 113-year-old Mummer’s Parade — a tradition in which 10,000 men and women dressed in bright, colorful costumes march and twirl for two miles up one of Philadelphia’s main streets.
The term “Mummer” is German and means “to costume or masquerade.” In the 1600s, Swedish settlers to Philadelphia’s outskirts celebrated Christmas by asking their neighbors for dessert and liquor by dressing up, and chanting and shooting firearms. The party eventually moved to New Year’s Day and evolved into a series of neighborhood parades. As more immigrants moved to the area, each group added their own cultural flair to the local customs. In 1901, the tradition of the first recognized and judged Mummers Parade began.
“It’s a unique parade,” says Sanchez, 45, who travels from New Jersey to Philadelphia every year. “There’s nothing else like this in the U.S. It’s steeped in the tradition of Philadelphia…A whole year’s worth of work all for one day — it’s really something special.”
Sanchez is one of the only Latinos in the parade. Although his dad was born in Puerto Rico, he is a part of the 64-member Polish-American String Band — a band that has been performing in the Mummer’s Parade for the past 80 years, and has won 11 first place prizes within that time.
“I am one of the few Latinos in the Parade,” says Sanchez, who recently found out that a friend of his father’s son from Puerto Rico also plays in one of the string bands of the parade. “It’s a strange coincidence.”
Although Sanchez grew up in New Jersey, he says he feels a bond to Philadelphia because that’s where his parents lived when they first got married in the 1950’s, and it is the city where his wife is from.
He also enjoys the fact that even though he plays in a Polish-American band, due to his father-in-law recruiting him, every year they have a different theme. This year, it will be Brazilian.
“I’ll be in a Carmen Miranda suit — lots of sequins and feathers like a Rio celebration,” says Sanchez, excitedly. “We’re going to make it just like that on New Year’s Day.”