Have you ever wondered who the lucky people are that get to ride on the floats through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras?
No, they didn’t win the Mardi Gras lottery but are a part of a tradition that is as old as Mardi Gras itself in that they are a member of a Krewe.
Every parade in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration, and there are about sixty of them each year, is sponsored by a Krewe. While there are literally dozens of Krewes, each with their own rules and traditions, there is a general framework that binds them together: each Krewe must hold a parade which includes floats or bands; they have to hold a ball; and most importantly they have to have the Mardi Gras celebration be its main purpose.
Over the years many more rules have been established for the Krewes to follow but those are the golden three. And from those three rules dozens of Krewes have been established to represent the various sectors of society that come together to celebrate Mardi Gras.
The following is a listing of just a few of the more famous and infamous Krewes from over the years:
Babylon: One of the ten oldest Krewes involved with Mardi Gras celebrations, it was started by a New Orleans dentist in 1939. Its membership is comprised of mainly physicians from around the country; however its activities are cloaked in great secrecy. In fact, the King and Queen are never revealed to the general public and the parade theme is not disclosed until a few hours before it is scheduled to begin.
Elks Orleanians: The oldest and largest of the truck Krewes. Their membership is so large that sometimes it can take a few hours for their entire caravan of trucks to pass by any one spot on the parade route.
Hermes: Another one of the oldest parading Krewes, they were founded in 1938 by a group of businessmen. Their name is in reverence to Hermes the Greek Messenger of the Gods and a golden statue of Hermes always leads their procession. They were the first Krewe to incorporate neon lighting into their floats’ design and have become the oldest light parade in New Orleans.
Iris: Named for the Greek Goddess of the Rainbow, it is now New Orleans sole parading Carnival organization for women, it is the largest ladies club in Carnival history and was founded in 1917. The Krewe prides itself on a strict adherence to full-length Carnival masks and white gloves.
Mardi Gras Indians: Nearly every section of New Orleans has an Indian Krewe and their members are nearly all African-Americans. Although the Krewes have participated in Mardi Gras celebrations for well over a century, having been founded in the 1880s, their parade is probably one of the least recognized out of all the older and more established Krewes. In 1987, the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council was formed to help preserve the Krewes and to strengthen their existence through unity.
Mid-City: Another of the older Krewes, they were founded in 1933 and are named for the neighborhood where its procession began in 1947. They were the first Krewe to introduce animated floats to the Carnival and due to their youthful themes have become a favorite of children parade goers over the decades.
Twelfth Night Revelers: This Krewe has had the honor since 1870 of kicking off the Carnival season with their ball held the twelfth night after Christmas. They continue to use the King Cake as the method in which to pick their Queen and Maids of the Court. The Queen is the individual who finds a gold bead within the King Cake, while the other Maids of the Court will find a silver bead. Their ball is a private, invitation-only event.