Three Kings, Three Krewes
Launching the Carnival Season on Twelfth Night
A walk down Decatur and one look at the myriad beads for sale in the shop windows may have some visitors convinced that Mardi Gras never really ends in New Orleans. The sense of celebrating life and using any excuse to dance in the streets is certainly a year-round aspect of the culture, but hardline traditionalists wouldn’t dare eat king cake before January 6, the official start of Carnival.
Twelfth Night in New Orleans is the evening of the twelfth day of Christmas and is line with Western Christianity in marking the Epiphany. Observed on Jan. 6, this year it falls on a Friday and if you are out to observe it, it may be challenging to find religion in the revelry.
Beyond eating King Cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the evening brings three celebrations of three krewes to mark the beginning of a magical time of year. What’s a krewe? It’s a group of people who exist to celebrate Mardi Gras, typically by parading in some way. Some krewes are more than 100 years old while others started yesterday.
The Phunny Phorty Phellows is one of the oldest Twelfth Night krewes, originating in 1878. They stopped after twenty years, but then were revived in 1981 and have been parading annually since. They exist to “herald the arrival of Carnival” and do so by taking over a St. Charles Avenue streetcar for the evening, complete with the Storyville Stompers to play them into the night.
If you are looking for a casual, but “only in New Orleans” way to celebrate, pick a spot on the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground, bring a King Cake and a bottle of champagne, and wait for the Phunny Phorty Phellows to roll by. They throw a few beads, but their evident level of fun is the real reason to watch. They roll from the Willow Street Car Barn at 7 p.m. and head Uptown, make the turn at Canal Street, and ride the street car back Uptown to the beginning of the route.
For a parade experience, the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc puts on a Joan of Arc walking parade to honor her birthday and Twelfth Night. Founded in 2008, the group honors St. Joan, the patron saint of France and the unofficial patron of New Orleans, and the connections between New Orleans and France.
The krewe sets the parade in Joan’s time period of 1400’s medieval France, so their costumes, music and handmade throws reflect the era. From their description on their website, they claim to be an “eclectic, authentic New Orleans blend of whimsical and reverent, sacred and secular, spectacular and contemplative.” That’s accurate.
The Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc rolls at 7 p.m. at the Jax Brewery building and makes three stops along the route in the French Quarter for “medieval pageantry.” The route map outlines the details of this family friendly parade.
A newer krewe started in 2014, the Krewe Des Fleurs, will be premiering their 2017 flower motif at their Secret Garden Party Costume Reveal event at 7 p.m. at The Voodoo Lounge located at 718 N. Rampart St. The party is for people 21 and older.
This artistic krewe was founded to grow the creative spirit of its members through costuming. The founder, Laura Shapiro, said, “When we parade, we hope onlookers feel as though they've just witnessed the float decorations come to life, jumped onto the street and started dancing with them. We treasure crowd interaction above all else.”
They also pride themselves on environmental sustainability. “We strive to contribute to the building of a more sustainable Mardi Gras culture," Shapiro explained. "Each year we design and build handmade throws from upcycled materials in the shape of a flower that can ‘bloom’ all year round for the recipient. We also gift wooden nickels to parade watchers as a symbol of our gratitude."
Each of these Twelfth Night events begins at 7 p.m., making the choice a hard one. But who said having this much fun should be easy?