Goggle-eyed kids laughed until their chapped cheeks ached. Grown men behaved like they were off their meds. Old heads complained that back when they were kids, the crowds were bigger, the parade was longer, and the performances took place every six inches along the route. And a new generation started a family tradition that, freakish as it may be, will become a treasured somehow wholesome memory.
For confirmation, there was no need to seek any authority more trustworthy than Gianni Sacca.
"This guy came out with a skirt and a hat and he was hilarious!" said Sacca.
The 11-year-old came from his home in Washington Township, with his family and friends, to witness his first Mummers' parade. After standing in the freezing wind for two hours, watching the comics and wenches boogie by, his father had herded all the kids into the vestibule of Macy's where they stood by the blasting heat registers toasting their hands like marshmallows.
Newcomers are often perplexed by the spectacle. Asked if he understood what he was witnessing, Nicholas Richardson shook his head. "Not one thing," said the 17-year-old Rhode Island high school student, who had landed a job selling novelties at the corner of Morris and Broad. "Looks like a lot of drunk people and music."
The observation, while technically accurate, failed to grasp the gestalt. Because the Mummers, whose New Year's Day blowout is considered the oldest folk parade in the country, are mostly a confederation of good-hearted souls who want to kick-start January with a good laugh.
"Every year is just another year. It's tradition," said Tom Quinn, a member of O'Malley NYA Wench Brigade. Quinn, 48, a dock worker at the Navy Yard, has been coming to the parade since he was a baby, and started bringing his son when the child was 22 months old.
"The crowd is great!" Quinn said, a vision in greasepaint and satin. Down in South Philly, spectators were scattered thinly along the route. But as the parade approached Center City, sidewalks were packed like rush hour subways.
Reaching his Michelen Man snowsuited arms across the police barricades, Harris Saritsoglou commanded attention.
"He grabbed my hand harder than anyone. He knows what he's doing," said Dave Kennedy, a Mummer who could not resist the boy's insistent calls from the sidelines. Kennedy, 20, who in his other life is studying to be a pharmacist, draped a strand of shiny beads around Saritsoglou's neck.
Before he left, he had a few parting words of wisdom for the five-year-old from Upper Darby.
"Not everything you want in life comes with an aggressive approach," Kennedy told the boy. Then, with a plastic cup filled with twisted tea, he left to rejoin his fellow wenches.
The more serious performances would come later in the day and require considerable stamina for those who hoped to catch the action out on the street.
The gutter was strewn with the torn envelopes for portable Toe Warmers, crushed cans of Budweiser, confetti and yogurt containers. The air carried the vapor trails of cigars, cigarettes, pot, beer and Chapstick. And story-high amplifiers loaded on truck beds blasted Beyonce's "Single Ladies" through the thickest ear muffs.
"I love the Mummers," said Nina Swanson, who had just scored a pair of green plastic LED blinking glasses in the shape of 2014 from a guy selling them two for $5.
"I love the costumes and how they are all excited and everything," said Swanson, an 11-year-old from Glendora, N.J. She hoped to last until 4 p.m. when the Fancy Brigades finally arrived, and was holding out fairly well, so far, she said, because in addition to her jacket, she was wearing three shirts, three pairs of pants and two pairs of gloves.
One of the most dramatic changes in the parade came about 17 years ago when performances were first offered indoors. The bleachers were packed for the noon show of the Mummers Fancy Brigade Finale, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Marianne Buccello, a native Philadelphian, who left the city years ago, had bought tickets so that she, her husband, Joe, and her 86-year-old mother, Marion Flerx, could enjoy the show in comfort.
"Our feet aren't so good," said Buccello, 63, the acting director of a nursing home. Before they took their front-row seats, Flerx had picked out a plumed and sequined Mummers hat from the pile of costumes spectators were encouraged to borrow for the two-hour performance.
"We moved to Florida for 10 years," said Joe Buccello, "and came back because of the Mummers. The Mummers, the pretzels, the cheesesteaks . . ." he hesitated a moment. "And my son."