In most parts of the U.S., the time after a new year begins is one of restraint, reflection, and resuming routines. But in New Orleans, we begin the Carnival season a mere six days into the year!
Growing up Catholic, no matter where we lived, we always kept up the Christmas tree until the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three Kings visited the Baby Jesus (If you’d like a fun look at related traditions around the world, check this out).
But in Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, January 6 is known as 12th Night and the official start to the Carnival season which culminates in Mardi Gras. Since that date is based on when Easter falls, we have anywhere from a month to almost two months to celebrate and eat king cake (because to truly be New Orleanian means this season is the only time consuming this is “legal” … there was a lot of blame placed on those consuming early for the Saints’ loss on January 5 … the superstition is real here!
As noted in the link above, there are many ways to celebrate the start of this most wonderful time of the year. Personally, I’ve spent the last three 12th Nights participating in the Joan of Arc parade in the French Quarter. It’s been in existence for 12 years and honors the Saint (whose 100th anniversary of her canonization is in 2020, watch #StJoan100 for more to come). Joan’s birthday is January 6, plus there’s a beautiful gold statue of her in the French Market of our city. With all our French Catholic ties here, it’s very fitting.
There are no floats in this parade; all participants walk and a few of the official characters ride horses. It’s a more somber parade than other Carnival ones with a flair for the artistic as most Krewe members make their costumes from scratch. It’s awesome to see the end result of the prop and costume creation!
In 2018 and 2019, I participated as a Foot Solider, which is this Krewe’s support group (almost every walking/marching group has a backup team that walks security alongside the route, carries banners, etc.). I simply needed to pickup my loaned livery and show up an hour early to learn my assignment for the night. Year 1 I walked security and learned how important that is to help keep the crowds in check.
Year 2 a volunteer scheduled to be near the front of the parade didn’t make it so I was moved up. I got to carry a scepter, dance along the way, and best of all, met Mr. Mardi Gras Guide himself, Arthur Hardy! The guide is the “bible” of the season and a must-buy every year to have the scoop on parade routes, throws, and more.
After so much fun, I decided to join as a full member for Year 3. Membership for this and most krewes opens right after the parade for the next year! Also, the sooner you join, the lower your dues. As a full member, you make a costume and “throws” (though in this parade they are handed out and not tossed). Members here receive a small amount of branded throws and can purchase additional items.
I grew up loving crafting, and this year’s experience taught me that we all have some ability even if the level is different than others. For me, I wanted to create a costume which did not require sewing. Fortunately, this krewe provides resources for online shops featuring medieval-appropriate items. I ordered an amazing wig and cape last summer, found some sequin appliques in an Etsy shop, and added trim from Jefferson Variety for a local touch (their shop is likely worth a whole separate post!). I added in a dress which was reaching its end of my wardrobe days, and assembled it all with applique glue and fabric tape. Magic!
It was a bit different being more of an official character this year in the parade. It was a delight to surprise unsuspecting parade watchers with a tea light or throw pack. It was disappointing to encounter a few who were demanding of an item. I love to “collect them all” as much as anyone, but I also don’t expect a throw when I go to a parade. But perhaps the best part of this year’s parade was my worlds melding: I chose to walk in the Flaming Heretics battalion so I would be alongside my Muff-a-Lotta sisters who also walk this parade. I loved seeing what they did with their costumes, and I think they loved seeing me portray a different role!
I would highly recommend getting involved in this or any parade, particularly in a support group if you don’t know where to start or commit long-term. It’s a wonderful way to be a part OF the celebrations and meet others who also enjoy bringing this part of our culture to life!