New Orleans: The Cultural Melting Pot

We don’t live in an American city. Sure, legally or federally, whatever you want to call it, we’re American. Fortunately, though, we’re about as far away as you can be from the typical ‘Murican city. What do you get when you take a handful of various Europeans, freed slaves, and four different national allegiances and bake them in a subtropical swamp for ~300 years? You get the bastard child we all know and love as New Orleans.

Since we have such a variety of flavors influencing our culture, we get to experience a ton of great cultural festivals and celebrations. Whereas other places in the US are tied pretty exclusively to one cultural background, we have multiple. Boston has the Irish. The Midwest has the Germans. The West Coast boasts a huge Vietnamese population, and New York has…pizza. We have all of that, and more.

So, with our little-bit-of-everything, let’s take a gander at some of the best cultural festivals and celebrations New Orleans has to offer.

Oktoberfest

Chicken dancing and beer. 'Nuff said.
Chicken dancing and beer. ‘Nuff said.

I’m German, so I’ll start off with my favorite. Oktoberfest is a three weekend long celebration of German food, music, and most importantly, beer. Paying homage to Munich’s grand festival, the New Orleans version is put on by the Deutsches Haus, a non-profit that supports German heritage in the city. Mass consumption of German beers and a cheerful rendition of the Schnitzelbank song is enough to sell me. Prost!

Greek Festival New Orleans

A little bit of Greece on the bayou.
A little bit of Greece on the bayou.

New Orleans was one of the first US cities to have a significant Greek population. Holy Trinity Cathedral was even the first Greek Orthodox church in the Americas. So, it’s no surprise that the very church is home to one of the best festivals in the city – Greek Fest. I love me some moussaka, so any chance to eat like the Greeks and catch some great music on Bayou St. John is a win-win for me.

Running of the Bulls

A smack in the ass and a good time.
A smack in the ass and a good time.

San Fermin in Nueva Orleans is New Orleans’ take on the world famous annual Encierro in Pamplona, Spain. Where our European counterparts have actual bulls, we have the fierce and unforgiving Big Easy Rollergirls. Dress in your best white and red outfits and run around the quarter in the early summer hours, but watch out — the “bulls” aren’t shy to smacking your ass with a plastic bat.

 

Bastille Day

Bastille Day celebrations.
Bastille Day celebrations.

In arguably the Frenchiest city in America, we won’t just be celebrating America’s Independence Day in July. With the help of the Alliance Françias de la Nouvelle-Orléans, people of any nationality can partake in what’s described as “a bit of history, and a lot of party.” I’d say nothing sounds more fitting for New Orleans. Vive La France!

Irish-Italian Parade

Irish-Italian Parade.
Irish-Italian Parade.

Two very prominent ingredients in our cultural gumbo come together to put on the annual Irish-Italian parade in Metairie. Originally started as a marching group by Eddie Renton, the parade was started in 1983 when he and Jefferson Parish president Joe Yenni agreed that, “it’s about time the two heritages got together.

 

Holi

UNO students celebrate Holi.
UNO students celebrate Holi.

UNO’s been celebrating “Holi,” a Hindu festival of spring, for four years now, and it’s only getting bigger. Also known as the festival of colors, Holi comes from India where people flock to the streets to cover each other in colorful powders and paints.

St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph's Day Parade.
St. Joseph’s Day Parade.

I already mentioned Italians, but I can’t pass up on the feast of St. Joseph’s day. The celebration of Jesus’ step-daddy is huge with Italian Americans. Worshipers around the city set up both public and private altars celebrating the Saint. Massive feasts are held, with the majority of food going to charity afterwards. If you’re superstitious, you can get a lucky fava bean. Legend has it that you’ll never be broke as long as you carry your little blessed bean.

About Eric

Eric is a New Orleans native and graduate of Loyola. He grew up in Kenner and is embarrassed to tell you that. He lives Uptown and frequents local watering holes to socialize with peers. His hobbies include writing, making bad jokes, and casually observing the day to day life of New Orleans.

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