As Sugar Bowl sports fans crowded through the French Quarter on the final morning of 2023, a brass band parted the crowds of Texas Longhorns and Washington Huskies fans, not entirely unlike Moses at the Red Sea. Emerging from St. Louis Cathedral as something of a simultaneous funeral dirge and birthday celebration, a highly organized, highly costumed battalion of revelers traveled to the statue of St. Joan of Arc near the French Market. The scene quickly changed to celebration and "Happy Birthday" was played by New Orleans brass.
Best described as something of a walking Renaissance faire, the Krewe of Joan of Arc boasts some of the most high-level costuming of any parade, celebrating the Maid of Orléans in everything from her trial and execution as a witch and enemy of England to her later vindication and eventual canonization by the Church, as well as her modern influence as a folk protectress of the Crescent City. The following weekend, with an already buzzing downtown weekend from the Fan Expo pop culture convention and not a few Atlanta guests visiting for the Saints vs. Falcons game, it felt like the perfect time to truly begin the Carnival season.
Celebrating its 16th year as a Twelfth Night parade, the Krewe of Joan of Arc has managed to perfectly balance the feeling of an indie walking krewe with a sense of costuming and revelry that's completely able to stand up to the largest of Carnival's super krewes. Despite its status (or perhaps because of its status) as an individual walking krewe, Joan of Arc prides itself on a sense of elaborate costuming and historical recreations. The Krewe of Joan of Arc has no organized floats and it has few, if any, thrown trinkets. Several organized groups shine through the parade, including elaborate angels, the re-enactors of Joan's trial, stilt-walkers, and several walking krewes. One could witness everything from a birthday cake commemorating Joan and an entire legion of bagpipes to the Krewe de Fleur performance artists (whose floral costumes take inspiration from the iconic flowers of the Krewe of Orpheus) and a real-life sized parading dragon (whose name is Adversaire). Organized around several mock-battalions, press and volunteers were given knightly attire as proof of status.
And for this year's celebration, there was an increased level of synergy between New Orleans and its French namesake. The king and queen of the parade were portrayed by Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers and cultural historian Hannah Kreiger-Benson. Portraying the titular maiden was Marley Marsalis, granddaughter of the legendary New Orleans piano professor Ellis Marsalis, who had previously lived in NOLA's namesake city of Orléans and is preparing to return this summer for the celebrations there. Maid Marley is currently a senior at Cabrini High School and she is attending Tulane University this autumn.
Blocks away at the Historic New Orleans Collection, the twilight of Twelfth Night was lighting up for a private party as the krewe prepared for Joan's campaign. Walking through the streets of the French Quarter, one could catch glimpses of draped French flags, angels, fairies, witch hats, one fellow in the full Ghostbusters getup, and Mayor Cantrell. From deep within the corridors of its building on Chartres Street, the Caillot Circle, the young professional team of the HNOC, hosted a grand private party, serving the first king cakes of Carnival amidst racks of Newcomb Pottery and the portrait gazes of 18th century Louisiana statesmen. As the parade headed across Chartres Street, a French-language toast rang out from the Historic New Orleans Collection's balcony, celebrating Joan's legacy before continuing further towards a special blessing at St. Louis Cathedral.
Back inside, French Consul Général Rodolphe Sambou was happy to discuss the cross-cultural exchange between New Orleans and France, including French-language immersion schooling, cultural and government ties, geography, climate, and more that unite Louisiana and France in continued conversation. Back downstairs, the evening winded down as the private entourages of the Consul and the Mayor, as well as the Historic New Orleans Collection, made their way back into the night. Near the end of the evening, a slice of the Collection's king cake was revealed to have the king cake baby, perhaps the very first of the season. The night concluded with revelers from across Chartres Street to Sucré and the Hotel Monteleone, where the parade watchers blended in with sports fans, the formal guests of Governor Edwards's end-term party, and the battalions of Jeanne d'Arc in rendezvous with the fading glimpses of Fan Expo's cosplayers. It's unmistakable. Carnival has come once again.
The Krewe of Joan of Arc paraded through the French Quarter on Twelfth Night, January 6, 2023. The krewe hosts regular events themed around French-Louisiana history throughout the year, including book clubs, historical seminars, and more. For more information on their year-round activities, visit the Krewe of Joan of Arc's website: joanofarcparade.org.