Ask A Wedding Planner: New Orleans Wedding Traditions Explained

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Founder, CEO - NOLA Event Planners, LLC

Thinking about getting married in New Orleans, Louisiana? New Orleans is now considered a part of the “Hollywood South.” Many Celebrities are flocking to New Orleans to make movies, get married, host events, and purchase homes. New Orleans continues to be a popular wedding destination location for many reasons. New Orleans is centrally located in the country, which makes travel easy. It’s an ideal place for adult and family fun. The city’s culture is like no other. The food is to die for, and there is music and entertainment on every corner. You can easily navigate through the city without renting a car. There are tons of free things to do, festivals, and of course, Mardi Gras. These are just a few of the reasons why couples love New Orleans. 

The number one request from my destination couples is to have a 2nd line band at their wedding. Most often, couples and their guests need a little history lesson on why we 2nd line in the streets after a wedding ceremony or reception. So here are New Orleans traditions explained.

DSW Photography LLC


Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)! Traditional New Orleans weddings have cocktail receptions. Meaning that food is passed and served at live-action stations, allowing guests to socialize and sample traditional New Orleans cuisine’s varied flavors and dishes. Expect to mix and mingle and dance the night away. There is no assigned seating except for key family members and the wedding party.


One of the most popular traditions during New Orleans weddings is the famous second-line parade. At a wedding, it signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the couple. A Brass band leads the wedding party, and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue, or it may take place at the end of the reception itself. The Second Line Parade has two parts. The first line of people to parade is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, “The Newlyweds.” All the guests who want to join in the celebration make up the second line. The newly married couple leads the second line holding personalized decorated umbrellas or parasols. Many couples opt to add a grand marshal, an energetic local (A second liner) who heads the parade. The guests form a line behind the band, and the newly married couple dances in the street to live music with personalized handkerchiefs and decorated umbrellas in hand!


The tradition for the second-line handkerchief originated from the famous New Orleans jazz funerals. Many involved in the second line would either have an umbrella or parasol to add to the spirit of the procession/parade. Those who did not have umbrellas and wanted to join the festivities would grab the nearest white handkerchief to wave in the air. The white handkerchiefs were often in the pockets of the gentleman in the old days or the ladies’ personal handkerchiefs. Today any paper or cloth napkin has been used to wave in the air to allow you to join in and be part of the fun.


The true origin of the second-line umbrella has never really been documented. But baby, you know that New Orleans is hot and humid, so logically, it just makes sense to have one as you stroll the streets of New Orleans. The idea of carrying an umbrella for shade was very common and symbolized Southern style, femininity, and grace. Plus, they didn’t have air conditioning in most homes back then. The umbrella became an accessory of choice for many Southern weddings and was often an indicator of societal stature. Today Second Line Umbrellas are decorated with colors, themes, and heavy embellishments. They reflect the attitude and personal style as they twirl and spin as if to say, Baby, “laissez les bon temps rouler” (Let the Good Times Roll)!


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