People tend to think of New Orleans women as rather naughty—and that’s true to a great extent, but there are also three women’s parades that are dedicated to saints. In order of their appearance during the year, they are Jeanne d’Arc, which parades every January 6, St. Ann’s parade on Mardi Gras Morning, and the St. Catherine’s Day Hat Parade, which takes the place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving
The first parade of the year is a candlelit procession put on by the Krewe of Jeanne d’Arc to commemorate her birthday on January 6, and marks the beginning of carnival season. Jeanne d’Arc is the patron saint of France and unofficially, patron saint of our city. Participants wear elaborate costumes that Krewe members work on all year representing medieval France with kings and queens, lords and ladies, and clerics and ecclesiastics of all kinds from nuns to bishops to the pope. Then there is Joan, or rather Joans, since there are six—each from a different event in her life. Joan the student and Joan the warrior (in full armor) ride horseback, and Joan the heretic is hauled in a tumbrel on her way to being burned at the stake. This Joan has a macabre sense of humor, handing out matches and fireballs to the crowd. The parade takes place in the French Quarter, going down Decatur Street on the river, visiting the St. Louis Cathedral for a blessing of the Joan’s sword and back down to Decatur Street where the parade ends with the cutting of a king cake and the crowning of parade royalty.
You have to get up early to make it to the St. Anne’s Parade on Mardi Gras morning. It starts out at around 8:00 somewhere in the Bywater (the exact location and route is never revealed, but if you hang out at Mimi’s in the Marigny or at the R Bar, by around 10:00 you’re sure to see the parade pass by). Eventually, the parade heads up to Canal Street to see the Rex parade, which marks the end of Mardi Gras. After that, those who have been bereaved in the previous year go back to the French Quarter where they cast the ashes of their loved one in the Mississippi. The St. Anne’s parade is well worth watching for the amazing, imaginative, colorful parade wear, said to be the best at Mardi Gras. You can see some examples here.
The St. Catherine’s Day Hat Parade happens every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving—a time when there’s almost always perfect weather. That’s a good thing because nobody wants a drop of rain falling on the amazing hats the women wear. St. Catherine is the patron saint of milliners, and the parade is modeled after a similar event in Paris, where milliners design extravagant hats, which are modeled by unmarried women over 25, called “Catherinettes.” Women and girls of all ages are invited to come out in their fanciest headgear, and while any hat at all will do, many make their chapeaus themselves, the more over the top, the better. A prize is given out for the best hat, and the winner becomes the next year’s Grand Marshall. Participants meet by the fountain on the corner of St. Charles and Pleasant Streets to drink champagne and admire each others’ creations. Accompanied by a jazz band, there’s a short sidewalk parade where the ladies wave to onlookers and have their pictures taken, and then everyone reunites at the fountain for more champagne and a party. If the huge crowds of Mardi Gras aren’t your thing, this parade might be. It’s manageable, well-mannered, and a whole lot of fun.