A Fancy Start to 2016


For the members of Golden Sunrise, the Mummers Parade is an opportunity to start the New Year off with smiles.

Attached to Golden Sunrise’s clubhouse on Greenwich Street is a garage that is stuffed to the rafters with its colorful history: a huge red lobster, a pair of jousting knights, giant exotic birds — the legacy of the group’s five-plus decades strutting in Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day.
 “Everybody says there’s a reason why you’re there,” said Jack Cohen, the president of Golden Sunrise, the last remaining Fancy Club in the parade. “There are great people down here. They have a desire to keep a tradition that goes back to at least the 1800s and keep it going.”
The parade began in 1900 as an official event for the city, although it has been going on unofficially since the 1800s as a way to celebrate the New Year. A mummer is an actor in a traditional masked mime, especially of a type associated with Christmas and popular in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
For 20 years, there have been at least three clubs competing against one another, but the others have dropped out due to lack of funds. Since 2007, when the city stopped giving out prize money (a first-place fancy club could receive more than $10,000), the number of participants in all categories has been halved, from about 15,000 to 8,000. Even with all-volunteer labor, to put on a show — with expenses like the price of feathers, the cost of glue, renting trucks and heating oil — a Mummer organization can spend tens of thousands of dollars. Cohen said reversing the route of the parade where the performers will be judged first at City Hall, then parade south down Broad Street, made it logistically better by not having to deploy as many policemen and it allows more people to view the parade from the street.
After the last club in their division dropped out two years ago, the members of Golden Sunrise had a decision to make.
“We certainly weren’t in it for the money,” Cohen said. “It was something that we had to sit down as an organization and decide what we wanted to do.
“If it was about the competition, we wouldn’t have been here in the first place,” Cohen added. “It’s about the day. It’s about the smiles. It’s a chance to start the New Year right with the Mummers.”
Cohen, 54, a member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, got involved with the parade at the age of 15 when he volunteered at the Mummers Museum, where he served food and cleaned instruments. Most people participate in the parade because of their family, but Cohen was a rare exception.
“I violated every type of rule,” he said.
He told the Jewish Exponent he went to the parade as a child with his family, but being in it is a unique experience. His first parade was 1977; today, he is entering his second year as president, which entails much more responsibility, including meetings throughout the year with city officials and other Mummer groups.
The club makes about 20 frame suits, which are elaborate designs built on wooden frames and wheels, many of which are plumed with ostrich feathers that Mummers present to the judges. Past and present works include the aforementioned giant lobster, a devil, a scarecrow, a toy box, seascapes, a fish, New Orleans Mardi Gras and alligators.
Gary Rosen of Marlton, 49, who is a member of the Chabad of Medford, is marching in his fifth parade. His involvement began in 2010: he was listening to WMMR when the overnight DJ asked for volunteers to help at the Golden Sunrise Club.
Growing up in Cheltenham and Logan, he attended the parade with his family, but said this is a different type of experience.
“As a kid, I loved it because of the excitement and the energy that came off of the people performing,” Rosen said.
He said the parade is a nice way to start the year for him and his wife Ilene.
“You see it on TV, but to actually get your hands on it and see the finished product — that’s the most rewarding part,” he said. “It’s a way to see Philadelphia in a different light in terms of the way people are on New Year’s Day. As soon as you put on that suit or costume, you get a whole different feeling and aura that you want to go out and do something fun.”
Contact: jcohen@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0747


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