F l a m b e a u

The flambeau ("flahm-bo" meaning flame-torch) was originally a carrier of a torch to light the nighttime floats in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season.

Many of the flambeau carriers today are descended from long lines of carriers, some carrying a Flambeau for as many as forty years. Traditionally ,when the flambeau carriers pass, parade goers toss quarters to them in thanks for carrying the lights of Carnival. These days quarters have been replaced with dollar bills.

All photography by Rhenda Saporito

It was about 20 years ago when a friend shared with me where the Flambeau carriers line up. Since then, I have spent hours watching them interact, ignite their “lights” and fall in place for the parades. Over the years I have become friends with many of them. They expect to see me when they line up and again along the “route” as the parade rolls. 

One Mardi Gras, I saw them line up on Napoleon Avenue, again on St. Charles Avenue and then went downtown and saw them there. They were amazed that I managed to see them three times in one evening! 

The flambeau carriers are a random, yet close knit group of our New Orleans neighbors.  One never knows who will show up to carry a “light”. Year after year they know I will be there to give them their first dollar of the night. I aways have additional dollars to give along the route too, hoping that those who do not know the tradition will catch on and share a dollar with them as well.