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A Guide to the Mardi Gras Parade Krewes of New Orleans

EVERYTHING TO KNOW ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS THAT MAKE UP MARDI GRAS PARADES IN NEW ORLEANS, INCLUDING DEFINITIONS, HISTORY, AND THE MAJOR KREWES

Dressing up and catching beads during Mardi Gras is the easy part. Learning about all the New Orleans parade krewes can get confusing, even for the locals. The history and traditions of Mardi Gras krewes are often more elaborate than the New Orleans parades they plan. Even the new krewes have concocted themes and practices as impressive as the ones who have been parading for decades. Learning the difference between royalty and super krewes may make plotting this Mardi Gras season a bit easier.

What is a New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade Krewe?

Becoming a member of a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe takes work. Most krewes are like secret societies and require hefty membership fees and an in-depth application process. Some krewes restrict membership to relatives of current or previous members. Other krewes are one-gender, like Muses, an all-ladies krewe. All krewes have a court usually comprising a king, a queen, dukes, and maids.

In addition to the royal court, elaborate costumes, and parade floats, each krewe has signature throws. The Krewe of Zulu throws hand-decorated coconuts, NYX throws embellished purses, and Muses throws glittering heeled shoes. Each item, doubloon, cup, or signature throw, is marked with the krewe’s emblem. Those lucky enough to ride will toss the krewe’s throws into crowds along the parade route.

A Brief History of Mardi Gras Parade Krewes in New Orleans

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras krewes have been celebrating in the streets of the Big Easy since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1857, the first krewe, The Mistick Krewe of Comus, was formed. Its namesake honored the Greek God of merriment, and the theme was Demon Actors from Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton.

The Twelfth Night Revelers, Rex, and The Knights of Momus formed in the 1870s, followed by Proteus in 1882. Today, parade-lovers gather in krewes of thousands to continue the decades-old legacy of the earliest krewes.

The Top New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade Krewes

New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes are split into five categories ranked by seniority: royalty, super krewes, walking krewes and parades, rolling parades, and truck parades. Each krewe, no matter the category, has its own distinct theme, storied history, and fun traditions.

Royalty Krewes

Krewe of Zulu and Krewe of Rex are the royalty of Mardi Gras and the oldest in New Orleans. Many used to refer to them as old-line, meaning they formed before the 1930s. Rex, an all-male krewe, is the oldest, first rolling in 1872. Krewe of Zulu, named after the most mighty African tribe, was born in 1916.

Super Krewes

The super krewes of Endymion, Bacchus, and Orpheus pride themselves in having the most riders and the largest parades with the most extravagant floats. Each krewe has at least 500 riders, enabling them to own most of their floats and invite celebrities into their courts. Dolly Parton, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael Keaton have appeared as kings and queens of super krewes. Another trait of super krewes is their signature floats, like Bacchus’ Bacchasaurus and Orpheus’ Leviathan float.

Walking Parade Krewes

Marching groups of people in costumes and small yet still extravagant floats make up walking parade krewes. The small-scale floats allow walking parades to navigate the tight-packed streets of the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter. Krewe du Vieux, Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, and Krewe of Barkus are the most established walking krewes, but many smaller ones occur throughout the carnival season.

Rolling Parade Krewes

Rolling parades have extravagant floats, marching bands, flambeaux, and courts on a smaller scale than super krewes. Some of the most notable rolling parade krewes include Oshun, Hermes, Morpheus, Iris, Tucks, and Thoth. Most krewes fall into the rolling parade krewe category, outnumbering the royalty, super krewes, and walking parade krewes.

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