Commercial Takeover of Christmas Rescued it From Mummers Anarchy & Made it Safe to Celebrate

Illustration from Library of Congress/The Wall Street Journal.
An 1835 illustration of a watchman standing guard at Christmastime.

The commercial takeover of Christmas helped rescue the holiday from the grip of violent gangs of Mummers that used to roam the streets of cities such as Philadelphia and made it safe to celebrate, writes Jason Zweig for The Wall Street Journal.

Mummers were gangs of drunk young men who would dress in outrageous disguises and marauded through the nighttime streets while setting off firecrackers or shooting guns in the air.

The mobs banged on makeshift instruments and rampaged from house to house, breaking whatever was in their way if denied entrance. Once inside, they would steal food and drinks and create a mess in the home.

When the bitter cold kept mummers off the streets in 1870, the Philadelphia Press noted that “a stranger passing through our city would not for a moment think that Christmas was so near at hand.”

Slowly, the holiday became more about giving gifts to family and friends instead of seizing food and drink from strangers.

The seasonal street gangs soon faded away, but the memory of them still lingers in Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade held on New Year’s Day.

Read more about the evolution of Christmas at The Wall Street Journal by clicking here.