Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Joan is for all ages

Even though everyone who lives in New Orleans knows that Mardi Gras is as much a family affair as anything, it's a hard thing to convey to outsiders, who are typically offered only images of the bawdy revelry that is indeed part of the colorful chaos of the season.

However, the St. Joan of Arc parade was designed to be inclusive of all ages...how could we celebrate an ageless, timeless girl and exclude youth from the celebration? Some of the first institutions I contacted when organizing the event were local schools, and one of the diehard participants turned out to be a French teacher at Louise S. McGhee School--Lil Pinney, pictured with her daughter, Martha.
Lil created a sheep outfit for Martha, because Joan was a sheperdess when she first heard her voices. Lil's creativity made me realize all of the possibilities for children's involvement in the parade...fairies, peasants, farm animals. Throughout the planning process, parents contacted me asking if their children could come as angels, princesses, and knights. I was always pleasantly surprised and happy to see that the parade was attracting families, and reflected on its appeal.

Here are a few reasons, I think, that the St. Joan of Arc Parade is a great event for kids:

1. It's a way to get down to the French Quarter with the whole family in a safe way. When else can you walk through the Quarter escorted by horses and cops?

2. It's an early night. We started the parade at 6 p.m., shortly after nightfall, and the celebration at the statue wrapped up by 8:00 p.m. Diehards remained longer at the Market Cafe...

3. Who can resist an opportunity to costume with the whole family? A friend of mine dressed her kids in velvet capes, gave them swords, and called their get-ups medieval. Great! If they believe it, so do we.

4. There aren't many open events for Twelfth Night, the most under-celebrated part of Mardi Gras. What better way to shake off the holiday eating, shopping, cleaning, and recovering than to stroll with fellow citizens as one favorite season flows into another?

5. The parade is definitely secular but it has sacred tones and an obvious Catholic connection, so it's inviting to families who want to enjoy Mardi Gras in a more religious fashion (after all, we are marching on what is actually the Feast of the Epiphany).

6. It's an educational opportunity for kids who may not yet know about the Maid of Orleans. What better way to teach medieval and French history than via a parade?!

7. Those over 21 may drink a shot of Goldschlagger to toast Joan's birthday, but the king cake's for everyone. As are the birthday candles! (And anyone lucky enough this year to get the birthday horns and blowouts).

In summary, we are honoring a Saint, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, the French Quarter, the past, present, and future, by walking through America's Favorite City with horses, armor, swords, butterflies, candles, sheep, angels, glitter, and candy. It's quirky and it's solemn but not too wild nor too serious to prevent your kids from being safe and having a blast!

Next year there will be more formal opportunities for youth. For one, thanks to Lil Pinney, we'll be able to make my dream come true of choosing a Joan to lead us as they do in Orleans, France, each May for their FĂȘtes de Jeanne d'Arc.

We will put a call out this spring to public and parochial schools, asking for nominations of girls studying French who have displayed leadership, scholarly success, and community involvement. The one girl selected will lead us as Joan. Some krewes have a Queen with her Maids...we'll have a Maid "as" our Queen.

Details TBA...

In the meantime, start thinking of what your boys and girls can wear to next year's parade!