For Christians around the world, the three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most solemn days of the year. But they are also days of celebration, culminating with the joyful Resurrection and the confirmation of the Afterlife in which Christians believe.
In New Orleans, many church services begin early on Easter morning and, when they are over, the celebrations begin. For Catholics, who compose the majority of the city’s population, it marks the end of Lent, the 40+ somber days of fasting and abstinence that began at midnight on Ash Wednesday. For others, Easter is simply a festive time to show off colorful fashions and herald the arrival of the warm days of spring.
In the city that loves to celebrate with a parade, there are three of them in the French Quarter on Easter Sunday, all of which are free for the public to observe. There are other ways New Orleanians celebrate Easter, as well, and visitors – especially those with families – can partake in them. Many of the city’s most famous restaurants serve special brunches, marking the end of Lent, and in various locales, Easter egg hunts are held for the kids.
Here are some of the highlights of Easter every year in New Orleans:
Easter Sunday’s lineup of parades starts early that morning with The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade from Antoine’s Restaurant at 9:45 a.m. to St. Louis Cathedral for 11:00 a.m. Mass. The parade, consisting largely of mule-drawn carriages and old convertibles, makes its leisurely, roundabout way through the French Quarter, handing out stuffed Easter bunnies to the kids, along with other trinkets.
Following Mass, participants in the parade promenade to Jackson Square opposite the Cathedral to show off their Easter bonnets and other finery before returning to Antoine’s. Awards are given out for the best Easter bonnets, Easter baskets and overall Easter attire.
Later, around 1:00 p.m. is the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade. This tradition, which began back in the early 1980s, features renowned French Quarter singer, dancer and all-around entertainer Chris Owens as the Grand Duchess. She stands proudly on her gaily decorated float, assisted by elegantly attired attendants while decked out in one of her stunning, tight-fitting outfits.
The parade starts at the corner of Canal and Bourbon streets and makes its way through the French Quarter, past the Chris Owens Club at 500 Bourbon, with colorful floats and vintage convertibles and accompanied by one or more of the city’s famous brass bands. Plus dance groups and other entertainers. And, of course, since this is a New Orleans parade, there will be plenty of throws – Easter-themed – to catch from the floats and the open-top cars. This parade is a sight you’ll never forget!
Then, later in the afternoon, is yet another parade, the Gay Easter Parade, put on by the city’s GLBT community. Being nowhere near as wild or extravagant as a Mardi Gras parade, but rather family-friendly, the Gay Easter Parade takes a leisurely route through the French Quarter, passing every gay bar and many gay-owned restaurants and retail shops. The paraders ride horse-drawn carriages or floats while wearing showy versions of their Easter Sunday finest. Don’t be surprised if you see a gaggle of motorcycle dudes in leather and Easter bonnets might roar by. Spectators can expect to see (and catch!) plenty of beads and other throws.
There is also an annual Easter Bonnet Contest at Good Friends Bar, a GLBT neighborhood bar at the corner of Dauphine and St. Ann streets in the French Quarter. Anyone can join in and some of the bonnet entries can get pretty outlandish. The crowd votes for the winners, and you can almost certainly expect to hear impromptu renditions of Irving Berlin’s classic song for the occasion, “Easter Parade.” For information call (504) 566-7191.