The Mummers Parade traces back to mid-17th century roots, blending elements from Swedish, Finnish, Irish, English, German and other European heritages, as well as African-American heritage. The parade is related to the Mummers Play tradition from Ireland.
Swedes, Philadelphia's first settlers, brought the custom of visiting neighbors on "Second Day Christmas" (December 26) with them to Tinicum. This was soon extended through New Year’s Day with costumed celebrants loudly parading through the city.  Traditional New Years' celebrations of firing guns (Swedes and Finns) and recitations of traditional rhymes (English and Welsh) joined common practices of visiting neighbors. The Belsnickle, an early German version of Santa Claus, inspired comic masqueraders riding through Tinicum and Kingsessing dressed as clowns. Philadelphia's 19th century Carnival of Horns drew thousands of merrymakers in festive costumes to the vicinity of Eighth and South Streets in South Philadelphia. Southern plantation life’s contributions include the Parade’s theme song, Oh! Dem Golden Slippers, as well as the 19th-century cakewalk, dubbed the "Mummers' Strut". Other ethnic groups have been integrated into the parade as the years have gone on. Italians began to participate in large numbers after World War II.
Celebrants using firearms to "shoot in" the new year much later inspired the "New Year's Shooters and Mummers Association". Revelers travelling from door-to-door sang and danced for rewards of food and drink.
The early Swedish Mummers often selected a "speech director", who had a special dance and recited a traditional rhyme, such as: “ Here we stand before your door, As we stood the year before;
Give us whiskey; give us gin, Open the door and let us in. Or give us something nice and hot Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!  ”
The earliest documented club, the Chain Gang, formed in 1840. The first official parade was held January 1, 1901. The first String Band, Trilby, first paraded in 1902. In the early years of the official parade, the make-shift costumes of most celebrants were gradually replaced by more elaborate outfits funded by associations’ fund-raising efforts.