According to the French Quarter bartender serving my Sazarac, “the Easter Parade was the brainchild of, “a well preserved 80 year old showgirl and her curated contingent of NOLA friends.” A back home NOLA to Seattle expat colleague assured me the Easter parade would illustrate the grand tradition of genteel Southern ladies dressed in their Easter bonnets accompanied by dapper men in derbies. My NOLA pedicab driver described it as the second craziest, wildest party in the city. And of course since the city celebrates the coming of the penitential season of Lent with Mardi Gras, why would they not throw a party for Easter as well?
As it turned out all three descriptions were spot on because the New Orleans French Quarter celebrates Easter Sunday in style with not one but three distinctly different parades; their version of a festivities lagniappe for locals and visitors. Amazingly, not one of my three NOLA insiders knew about entire triumvirate of festivities which get increasingly more colorful and flamboyant as the day progresses.
Easter Sunday morning begins with the most traditional of the processions, The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade. Big hats, flowing chiffon and a sea of seersucker and bow ties are the costume de rigueur as ladies and gentlemen board decorated horse drawn carriages and convertibles at Antoine’s Restaurant and roll through the streets tossing plush bunnies and candy (called throws in NOLA) before disembarking at Jackson Square.
There, they make their way through the artists, tarot card readers and unsuspecting tourists strolling with their plastic cups of Bloody Mary, to St Louis Cathedral for 11 AM Mass. Post Mass, the celebrants promenade Jackson Square before boarding their buggies and returning to Antoines to award prizes for Most Exquisite Chapeaux, Grand Easter Basket and Regal Attire.
Following that comes the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade. 2015 was the 32nd time the local icon of Bourbon Street and former showgirl, Chris Owens and her merry band of friends and supporters put on this event.
It also begins at a local hotel (The Astor Crowne Ballroom) with breakfast, an Easter hat contest and silent auction of bidders who want to ride in one of the parade floats. The money from the auction supports music education in NOLA schools. Then the vintage cars, brass bands, dance teams and floats line up at the corner of Bourbon St and Canal St and snake through the French Quarter tossing out more throws of beads and Easter themed trinkets to the crowds. By tradition the parade is led by Ms Owens, the Grand Duchess (it is her parade after all) who stands on a lavish float dressed in a colorful Easter ensemble and bonnet that she designs each year.
The final parade, the Annual Gay Easter Parade (the 16th annual in 2015) has all of the trappings, costumes and extravagance of the earlier processions, but this version of Easter chapeaux, chiffon, bow ties and horse drawn carriages make the two earlier festivities feel sedate by comparison.
It is a raucous, irreverent bead tossing extravaganza complete with multiple Grand Marshalls and elaborately costumed brass bands. The parade passes in front of the many LGBT friendly bars in the Quarter and encourages audience participation attracting a crowd that dresses for the gala and joins the procession as it passes. It’s a fitting end to an Easter Sunday celebrated as only the French Quarter knows how to celebrate. It’s also a benefit parade with proceeds going to NO/AIDS Task Force Food for Friends program.