Flambeaux is a Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans that turned from necessity to a part of history. Flambeaux comes from the French word flambe, meaning “flame.” The first official Mardi Gras flambeaux debuted with the Mystic Krewe of Comus on Fat Tuesday in 1857. In the beginning, the flambeaux were needed for parade watchers to see the Carnival floats at night.
Originally, the flambeaux carried wooden rudimentary torches, which were staves wrapped with lit pine-tar rags. That evolved to oil-burning lanterns mounted on metal trays and long poles to prevent the flames from burning the carriers. Now they are sometimes elaborate in design and have an updated setup using gravity flow from a reservoir to keep four burners blazing no matter how long the parade might last.
I love walking to the beginning of the Uptown parade route to watch the lighting of the flames before the parades begin each day. It actually looks like a pretty dangerous activity when you see all the fires and the local fire department on hand.
It is always a beautiful way to know the parades are coming and always remember to tip your Flambeaux. This is also a New Orleans tradition to give them a dollar as they pass by on the route since they are some of the hardest working parade walkers.