The 2015 Mardi Gras season gets rolling Jan. 6 as the Joan of Arc parade brings maids on horseback, marching monks, bagpipers, angels, bishops, kings and drumming skeletons to the streets of New Orleans. Organized by the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc, the annual French Quarter foot parade mixes folk pageantry and cheeky Carnival fun; handcrafted throws and historic facts.
Look for a big, paper mache cake at the head of the 2015 procession, which marks the birthday of France's patron Saint – the martyred maid who donned armor and fought for her country about 600 years ago.
Joan of Arc's birthday falls on the first night of Carnival – a magical date on the New Orleans calendar. Many locals take their first bites of seasonal king cake on Jan. 6. Private balls begin for Carnival debutantes. Some revelers head uptown to watch the Phunny Phorty Phellows ride the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar.
In a town that celebrates tradition, the Joan of Arc parade is a bit of an upstart. Amy Kirk Duvoisin founded the event in 2008, drawing on her experience as a playwright and marketer to create a distinctively New Orleans version of street theater.
"We hand LED candles to folks along the parade route and ask them to fall in behind us. It's our gentle bow to the local second-line tradition, and a magical way to see the French Quarter on foot," Duvoisin said.
Like any good piece of theater, the Joan of Arc parade comes with a narrative. Horseback riders portray the maid at different ages. Puppets represent the voices that called her to arms. Masked skeletons in judges' wigs represent those who condemned her. Four marchers, dressed as stone towers, will carry the "Gates of Orleans."
But it's not just a historical pageant. Bagpipes and drums signal the parade's arrival and on the nighttime streets of the French Quarter parade goers clamor for throws. In 2015, those trinkets will range from Joan of Arc matchbooks to the handful of painted wooden swords that some consider the greatest prizes of the Carnival season.
"New York has subway flash mobs, San Francisco has guerrilla theater, but in those towns no one really expects or wants audiences to join in. That's the difference in New Orleans," Duvoisin said. "It's natural and fun to stage events on the streets here – the artists and police and everybody else see it as a big part of the culture. A Mardi Gras parade is a communal experience – not just a party or an occasion for drinking – and that feeling of community is at the heart of the Carnival experience."
That desire for community has helped the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc grow. It's first march, which Duvoisin staged for less than $500, drew about 40 marchers. This year, the krewe of 200 will follow a circular, 17-block route through the Quarter. Many members parade with their children.
The 2015 parade begins at 6 p.m. near Jax Brewery at Toulouse and Decatur Streets. Good viewing spots can be found along the route on Conti, Chartres, Ursulines and Decatur Streets.
The parade, which lasts about 90 minutes, pauses for three ceremonies.
The toast: Gregor Trumel, Consul General of France in New Orleans will join representatives of the Historic New Orleans Collection as they hail the procession from the balcony of the Williams Research Center, 400 Chartres St.
Sword blessing: Father Philip Landry will lead the ceremony outside Saint Louis Cathedral.
The crowning of the king and king cake ceremony: Takes place after the parade at Washington Artillery Park, Decatur Street at Jackson Square.
Joan of Arc Parade 2015
What: A medieval procession to kick off the Mardi Gras season – and to celebrate the birthday of a French patron saint.
When: Jan. 6, 6 p.m.
Where: The foot parade follows a 90-minute route through the French Quarter, beginning at Toulouse and Decatur Streets and ending at Washington Artillery Park.