New Year’s Day holds a special special significance for the city of Philadelphia.
The Mummers Parade — which was recently named “Best Holiday Parade” by USA Today’s 10best Readers’ Choice Awards — expands past the line of performers and entertainers that trickle down Broad Street on the first day of the year. It’s really about tradition.
The Mummers are made up of local clubs that compete in one of five categories with elaborate costumes, moveable floats and intricate performances in front of a panel of judges. The big event on Jan. 1 is the result of manual labor, teamwork and a whole lot of glitter — and that’s really where the magic of the Mummers lies.
Out of all of the clubs, Golden Sunrise, which houses their headquarters in South Philly, is perhaps the largest. It’s also the only “Fancy Club” left standing in the city. The clubhouse, which was renovated by Sunrise in the 1970s, is massive in size and, similar to the rowhomes that make up that neighborhood, the front of the building does not do justice for just what lies behind the door.
What was once a house and an abandoned business has been transformed into a holding space for a lot of history. Costumes, suits, larger-than-life contraptions and a sense of pride is what you find at the Golden Sunrise Clubhouse, and the members themselves also take on that calling.
Jack Cohen, captain of the Golden Sunrise Fancy Division, started out with the Mummers when he was just a teenager. What has historically (at least to this writer’s knowledge) been an exclusive and elusive group of people now allows members of all backgrounds and genders, and you don’t even have to live in South Philly. Cohen is a perfect example of that.
He first joined in with the organization when he was 15, working at the Mummer’s Museum at 2nd and Washington. People would ask him how it felt to be a Mummer, but he had no real idea — yet.
When the owner of the museum and her husband, who was the captain of the Fancy Division at the time, offered to show Cohen the ropes, he jumped on the opportunity. This was around 1977, so at this time it was still a bit roped off for some. But, Cohen was able to join despite no clear-cut ties, and soon enough he was asked by Captain John Lucas to help with some of the backend of the division with things like the lineup, which is essential, and even PR. Now, Cohen is the captain and holds the tradition of the Mummers with him four decades later.
Cohen has seen a lot of change in his time in terms of membership, as mentioned before. There was a time where it was just about who you knew and who you were. Now there are all ethnicities, backgrounds and, as Cohen puts it, the essential addition of women, which happened years ago (“We couldn’t do it without them,” he explains).
Jozef Jozefowski’s mother was one of the first females to join back in the ’70s. At the time, his uncle and grandfather were in the division and after his uncle suffered an injury and couldn’t wear his suit, there was a vote to see if Jozef’s mother could carry it. With three votes, she could.
Now Jozef is still involved in the Golden Sunrise Fancy Division along with his wife Molly, a physician’s assistant, and their three children Stanley, Mary and Jude even join in.
Jozef has been involved since he was 6, and Molly moved to the city in 2013 and met Jozef shortly after while getting involved with St. John’s Church. When Jozef mentioned the Mummers, Molly soon joined in. What was once “arts and crafts with beer” according to Jozef and a way for them to get to know each other has now turned into a more structured way for creativity, although it’s a bit different now due to bedtimes and babysitters. But, the couple still enjoys what the Mummers bring for them.
“Good tradition should last. For my kids, if they wanted to do it when they are older, great, but if not, why stop a good tradition from going on?” Jozef explains.
This year obviously still feels different with the pandemic, and, as a healthcare professional, Molly Jozefowski is vigilant. “We’re trying to assess that risk in light of the fact how sick or not sick children get with COVID. But the priority is faith and family and we can do some of the things with Golden Sunrise… Other things we have to do at home.”
The Golden Sunrise Division has asked their members to be vaccinated and they will be wearing masks along with their handmade costumes come New Year’s Day. But in an organization that makes everything by hand — costumes, floats and everything in between — rolling with the punches is something they can do quite easily.
Come Jan. 1, Philadelphians will line the street to see the Mummers in all their glory, but for the performers who showcase their skills and creations (keep an eye out for some additions from the Magic Gardens’ whiz Isaiah Zagar with the Golden Sunrise) it’s about something much more than fanfare and what that brings. It’s about keeping the traditions and the spirit of the Mummers alive, and it’s imperative to the Golden Sunrise group that they expand and welcome in members to continue it on.
“Some people think you can’t get into the Mummers,” finishes Cohen. “But we need people. We need you.”