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St. Joseph’s Night: 2021 brings changes, but culture thrives on

For the second year in a row, St. Joseph's night has looked different for New Orleanians. Here's a look at celebrations across the city.

by Matthew Hinton
March 26, 2021

For the second year in a row, St. Joseph’s night has looked different for New Orleanians. Here’s a look at celebrations across the city.

Treme

Mardi Gras Indians come out on St. Joseph’s night in the Treme neighborhood and 7th Ward on March 19, 2021. Saint Augustine’s Church in the Treme neighborhood is the oldest black Catholic church in the United States and built in the 1840s. It was also the first to allow Sicilian immigrants from Italy to worship and many settled in the multicultural Treme as a result.

In Italy St. Joseph’s Day is also Father’s Day, since Joseph was the legal father of Jesus, and there are many feasts with the food presented at the altars of St. Joseph’s in Italian and New Orleans churches. Legend has it the Carnival Indians began coming out on St. Joseph’s night with their Sicilian neighbors as it was easy to blend it with the Italian-American festivities for St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans. The Spirit of the Fi Yi Yi and Mandingo Warriors led by Big Chief Victor Harris, who has masked for 56 years, also passed by the church on their way to Backstreet Cultural Museum. Other Indians coming out include the Queen Dianne Honore of the Yellow Pocahontas and the Monograms Hunters Big Chief Jeremy Stevenson and Big Chief War of the 7th Ward.

The first known Carnival Indian gang started around the 1880s with the Creole Wild West led by Chief Becate Batiste, a Creole who was part Choctaw, French, and African-American. Indian suits often depict stories with sewn beads of Native Americans battling the United States cavalry, cowboys, or conquistadors. Other Indian gangs are more influenced by West African and Afro-Caribbean cultures and their suits can have shells, glass, and geometric patterns, while others like the have three-dimensional beaded structures sometimes representing animals or other sculptures protruding from the suit.

Irish Channel

Father Allan Weinert, a Redemptorist, blesses a St. Joseph’s Altar at St. Mary’s Assumption Church of St. Alphonsus Parish in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans on March 18, 2021. St. Joseph’s Day is tomorrow, March 19, and it’s a popular holiday among Italian-Americans in New Orleans including those who helped build the parish. Many altars with different offerings of food are seen in churches throughout Greater New Orleans. Redemptorists, a group of Catholic missionaries founded by St. Alphonsus in Italy, arrived in New Orleans in the mid-1800s and built three churches, including one for the Irish (St. Alphonsus Church), a church for the Germans (St. Mary’s Assumption Church) and a church for the French (Bon Secour). Bon Secour has since been dismantled and St. Alphonsus Church is undergoing gradual restoration. In Italy St. Joseph’s Day is also Father’s Day, since Joseph was the legal father of Jesus, and there are many feasts with the food presented at the altars of St. Joseph’s. Normally there is an Italian-American St. Joseph’s Parade in the French Quarter and the Mardi Gras Indians also celebrate with a Super Sunday parade the same week, but due to COVID-19 those parades have been canceled. Legend has it the Carnival Indians came out on St. Joseph’s night as it was easy to blend it with the Italian-American festivities for St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans.  St. Mary’s Assumption Church is also the traditional starting point for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade after a mass is held. The Bywater Bakery also had an altar with cakes and offering that some of the Baby Dolls picked up before dancing to the Soul Brass Band.

Congo Kids

It’s been nearly a year since the stay-at-home order for COVID-19 and The Guardians Institute / Donald Harrison, Sr. Museum and Cultural Center and all of its onsite programming ceased. In past years the programming included teaching the Congo Kids different traditions from the Mardi Gras Indian culture including a performance at the Kids Tent at Jazz Fest. Because of the pandemic only a small gathering was possible to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day at the Institute Saturday, March 20, 2021.

Ariya Smith, 7, spun around in her princess suit while Deliam Frazier, 19 months, sat on the stage, other kids drummed along with Voodoo Queen Kalindah Laveau, purple, and Guardians Maroon Queen Cherice Harrison Nelson holding a decorated machete.

Mardi Gras Indians traditionally come out on St. Joseph’s night on March 19, 2021 and also on Super Sunday on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. Donald Harrison was the Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians and a prolific reader. To honor his memory his widow Herreast Harrison has organized book giveaways since 2006 of over 40,000 books to schoolchildren and some were available for the kids to take home Saturday.

M’GIC “Magic” Day

It wasn’t Super Sunday or a Second Line Sunday but it was a M’GIC “Magic” Day at the Faubourg Brewing Company in New Orleans East on Sunday, March 21, 2021. The outside event was in partnership with the Mardi Gras Indian Council (M’GIC) and included live performances from Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls, Zulu Tramps, Lady Buck Jumpers, the Young Men Olympian Jr., and the Hot 8 Brass Band lead by Alvarez “B.I.G. Al” Huntley.

Golden Blades Big Chief Derrick Hulin spread his feathers wide as he danced along the walking path while Spy Boy K-Nine, Alphonse Feliciana IV, jumped in the air. Spirit of the Fi Yi Yi and Mandingo Warriors Flag Boy Aaron Belfield used oyster shells in his suit, while Big Chief Victor Harris used large cowrie shells. Big Chief Howard Miller with Creole Wild West looked pretty, pretty in yellow. Comanche Hunters Spy Boy Charlie Tenner, Jr. danced against Spy Boy K-Nine. Normally the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th, would be a Super Sunday but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large crowds. Photos by Matthew Hinton

Matthew Hinton is a New Orleans area freelance photographer whose work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism Awards in 2014 and 2016, and by numerous awards from the Press Club of New Orleans, including the Hal Ledet President's Print Photography Award, the highest honor the Press Club can bestow upon a photographer. Matthew Hinton has previously been a staff photographer at both of the daily newspapers in New Orleans. His work has appeared nationally and internationally through freelance work with the Associated Press and AFP, Agence France-Presse.

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