Main Image: Megan and Hobie celebrating with custom parasols at their wedding. Photo by Heather Cantrelle.
By Julia Del Rivero
For those couples lucky enough to get married in the New Orleans, let me first say: Congratulations! The city has an ineffable magic to it that cannot be simply explained — the kind of magic that incites spontaneous concerts in the street, prompts happy hour toasts at all hours, and opportunities for costumes year-round.
Many of your visiting wedding guests will come to the Big Easy and feel at home right away. Like actor John Goodman, a New Orleans local, once said,
There’s an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.”
Others, however, might require more of an orientation to some of the quirkier customs of the Crescent City. For those guests, here is a break-down of a few peculiarities and local foibles that your guests might be seeing for the first time:
The Money Dance
This tradition, also known as the Dollar Dance, has been around for centuries in various forms in many different cultures. However, in the United States it is most prevalent in Louisiana and Texas and parts of the mid-west according to weddingtraditions.about.com. Upon explaining this southern tradition to others, your New Orleans-newbies might shoot you a look of skepticism and tell you to ask for a loan the normal way, just like everyone else. But it is a very real custom and often one that guests most enjoy as an opportunity to share a moment with the bride or groom. The tradition involves guests coming up to dance with the bride or groom and pinning money to their clothes to signify blessings and good fortune. It is a fun, interactive highlight of any reception and, as an added bonus, it gives the couple a head start on their joint savings.
Your relatives are probably familiar with this concept, but have just taken to calling Second Lines a parade. While there are no floats involved, people are bound to have a blast taking to the streets with the rest of the wedding guests. The bride and groom, along with a brass band, lead the group, usually from the ceremony site to the reception, marching and dancing to the music. Wedding guests follow suit, strutting with gusto, typically waving napkins or handkerchiefs in celebration. The newlyweds get props of their own as well: usually glamorous customized parasols to lead the guests. It’s an unmistakable sight and evokes obvious references to New Orleans, whether you are in town for a local Second line, or participate from afar in a New Orleans-inspired wedding.
Open Container Laws
That’s right, guys! You can take your drink with you to the Second Line! New Orleans’ local drinking laws are quite the novelty to many a visitor who trek here from places where bars close at a measly 2:00 AM and drinks cannot be carried out, or even, dare I say it: dry counties. They are in for a real treat when they realize that they can take their French 75’s wherever they please (given they are in a plastic “go cup,” and not in glass containers).
This one is a biggie for friends or family driving in to town for the celebration, so be sure to give them a fair warning. LEAVE YOUR LOW SUSPENSION SPEEDSTERS AT HOME. The city’s roads are famous for being able to swallow your car whole (sometimes literally) and driving anything too low to the ground flirts dangerously with having the suspension bent out of alignment. As nice as it is to pull up in a nice whip to a fancy occasion such as a wedding, everyone will likely be better off maneuvering Nola’s unforgiving craters with a sturdy ride. The money saved in mechanics’ bills can be spent on drinks, souvenirs, or perhaps pinned onto the happy couple during their Dollar Dance.
Laissez les Bons Temps Roulez!
This is probably the best kept tradition of New Orleans and is the ultimate perk of visiting the Crescent City: everyone is just trying to have a good time. Literally translated, this famous phrase heard, seen, and embodied all over the city means “let the good times roll!” Alert your visitors to this philosophy and suggest that they think of their visit as a dance; Nola will take the lead, it’s just up to them to follow along, listen for the beat, and have fun!