The Joan of Arc parade, which annually falls on Jan. 6, offers a fitting opportunity for those who remember the way Mardi Gras used to be celebrated — in the French Quarter, at the street level, and with handmade throws.
It’s a decidedly old-school affair, which makes sense considering it celebrates the birthday of the Maid of Orleans — this year, the 604th.
On Wednesday, about 300 costumed revelers are expected to walk the streets of the Quarter, many divided into “battalions” and handing out throws that include handmade (and hand-embellished) trinkets fashioned by members of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.
The group was founded in 2008 as the Joan of Arc Project LLC, by Amy Kirk Duvoisin, and seeks to place the iconic French revolutionary in her proper historical context.
“I think it’s now really what I’d always hoped it would be,” said Kirk Duvoisin, pointing to a few years of confusion about what the parade was all about and why it happened to fall on Twelfth Night. “There’s now a really clear storytelling process.”
That process helps tell the story of Joan of Arc’s life in chronological order all the way through to her sainthood. An array of marching groups — including the Amazons, the Chorus Girls Project, the Muff-a-lottas and Skinz and Bonez — parade in costume and are led by the Kilts of Many Colours Bagpipes and Drums group. Parade battalions figure prominently, including The Gates of Orléans, Joan’s Trial and, new to his year, one representing Joan of Arc’s hometown of Domrémy.
Highlights include toasts from The Historic New Orleans Collection and Grégor Trumel, Consul General of France in New Orleans, from the Williams Research Center balcony at 400 Chartres St.; a sword blessing at St. Louis Cathedral by the Very Rev. Father Philip Landry; and the crowning of the king and a king cake ceremony at the parade’s conclusion, at Washington Artillery Park.
There also will be a group of court jesters carrying a birthday cake for the Maid of Orleans, who is selected each year through an application process and who is joined by New Orleanians in the community portraying the French king and queen who supported Joan in her battles against the English. (While the French were victorious, Joan was captured by the English, tried and convicted and burned at the stake.)
New props this year include a 12-foot-tall, hand-pulled bell tower, complete with swinging bells, to represent the celebration of church bells when Joan of Arc’s name was cleared in a retrial some 20 years after her death.
New throws this year include “Joanie on the Pony” playing cards as well as a “Joanie on the Pony” hand-sewn doll.
This offers the royal court to feel right at home in this cultural context. The 2016 court features Benjamin Franklin High student council President Margaux Schexnider; Sandra Savoye Dartus, Festigals, Inc. Partnership Liaison; and French American Chamber of Commerce President Eric Belin.
And for the first time, students from two French-immersion schools — Ecole Bilingue and Lycée Français — will join the parade.
This year’s honor especially resonates for Schexnider; not only is her mother French-born (giving the 16-year-old junior dual citizenship), but Schexnider also was recognized in her coronation in early December for a range of volunteer work that included serving as a delegate for the National Youth Leadership Mission Delegate of the Anti-Defamation League, and serving as a board member for the youth group Jewish Crescent City Youth.
The Islamic State terror attacks in Paris occurred two days before she left for an Anti-Defamation League conference in Washington, D.C. She feels a kind of doubled sense of defiance with the honor.
“It’s kind of a sense of fortitude, you know?” she said. “We’re still here, we’re still strong. You can attack Paris, but guess what? Paris is everywhere. You have to fight with love.”