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What is a Krewe?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 17, 2024
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A krewe is a group of people that are responsible for organizing a parade during Carnival season. Although there are Carnival celebrations all over the world, the word krewe was originally coined by the Comus Organization in 1857 and specifically refers to the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, Louisiana. With the popularity of Mardi Gras spreading through the Mississippi Gulf Coast of the United States, krewes now exist in many other Gulf Coast Cities. It is important to understand a bit about Mardi Gras history to understand how krewes were developed.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans began in the early 19th century and was influenced by the annual French tradition of masked balls prior to Lent that took place the late 1700’s. When the Spanish gained control of New Orleans, they outlawed these balls. After New Orleans became an American city, the balls were eventually reinstated and street masking was permitted a short time later. Maskers paraded on foot, in horse carriages and on horseback and their violence was the cause for a severe public aversion for New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration.

A group of six New Orleanians, eager to prove that Mardi Gras could be a beautiful and safe celebration, formed a secret Carnival society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus. After coining the word krewe, Comus created many new Mardi Gras traditions that are still practiced today. Once a krewe is established they must choose a mythological namesake, decide on a theme for their parade and host a ball following their parade.

Individuals may become part of a krewe in a few different ways. Many krewes limit membership to those with a previous family member that was part of the krewe or they belong to an exclusive organization that is affiliated with the krewe. Other krewes charge annual fees and membership is determined by who can afford the price. These fees or dues can be as little as $20 US Dollars per person for a small krewe to thousands of dollars for large, elite krewes.

Krewe members have many responsibilities. First, most krewes have some kind of float for their Mardi Gras parade, which is built and decorated by their members. The largest and most expensive krewes usually pay professionals for these services. The members of krewes participate as riders on a float during the parade by dressing up in costumes and/or throwing beads to spectators. Krewe members are financially responsible for any items that they throw out from floats, such as beads, candy and even coconuts.

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Discussion Comments

By ElizaBennett — On Sep 09, 2011

@SailorJerry - The Easter parades sound fun! I don't know if they consider the Easter groups "krewes," but I think probably not. The major Carnival krewes, as far as I can tell, don't participate in Easter parades. I think they save up all their energy for their Mardi Gras krewe activities!

By SailorJerry — On Sep 08, 2011

Are krewes only a Mardi Gras thing? I've never been to Mardi Gras or seen any Mardi Gras krewes, but a couple of years ago I was in New Orleans on Easter Sunday.

I went to a couple of parades. One was "convertibles and carriages," featurin mostly older ladies wearing fairly spectacular hats, and the other was a burlesque sort of thing.

Both of them involved the people on the floats or in the cars passing out various items to the crowd. Mostly, they tossed beads, but some were also handing out small toys or stuffed animals.

I'm curious if the people on those floats would be considered krewes or if it's something else.

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