New Orleans Wedding Send-Offs and Second Lines
Weddings in New Orleans and throughout the rest of the country will often conclude with a grand send-off by guests at the end of the reception, which is a wonderful way to end the night. But here in the Crescent City, we have an option that you will be highly unlikely to find anywhere else, your own parade through the streets.
Second Line Parades
If you live in this area, you almost certainly know what a second line parade is. And if you've visited from out of town, particularly in the French Quarter on weekends, you have most likely witnessed a few of these. While "second line" has a specific traditional definition stemming from unofficial paraders who would follow behind a Mardi Gras krewe's parade, the term has come to be more broadly used to include these parades for weddings and other special occasions. The parade essentially consists of the newly married couple and all their guests being led through the streets by a brass band. While sometimes the brass band is at the very front of the procession, my preference is to have the couple first, then the band, followed by the guests. Having the couple at the front of the parade, with the band behind them, makes for much better photographs of this!
There are a wide variety of elements that can be used for guests to give the couple a grand departure at the end of the reception. Some are more challenging or more easy to execute, and in some cases there are venue restrictions that influence the decision as well.
In most cases, a send-off and a second line parade at the end of the wedding are mutually exclusive because of the characteristics of each. However, if you really want both, the best way to do this is to split them up. Usually this means having the second line right after the ceremony, and the grand departure at the end of the night, though I did have one recent wedding that did the opposite, having sparklers right after the ceremony, with a brief horse-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter, and then a second line at the end of the night.
Sparklers are undoubtedly the most common send-off method, and for good reason... they look great! But they are also the most difficult to coordinate. Imagine the guests lining up and being handed sparklers in a situation where no one is truly in charge. Without instructions, a few of them might start to light theres, which causes everyone to think it's time to light them. Meanwhile, the bride and groom are still inside the venue, preparing to leave, maybe grabbing one last drink. A few minutes elapse, and when the couple emerges, all the sparklers have burned out already, leaving the guests holding little metal sticks.
For this reason, it is essential to have someone (or maybe a few people, if it's a larger group of guests) who can take charge and make sure this does not happen. A good wedding coordinator is without question an extremely valuable asset to have on hand for this, as they've done many of these departures before, and can make sure that no premature lighting occurs. And when it is go-time, they can get the sparklers lit in the quickest and most efficient manner. Venue staff can sometimes help with this if you don't have a wedding planner, but don't assume this to be the case. Lastly, if you have a particularly bossy friend or relative, they can be assigned this task.
Some venues, especially historic French Quarter buildings, do not allow sparklers near them out of fear of a fire being started. So bubbles are often the next choice. But even if sparklers are permitted, don't automatically rule out bubbles, as they look great too, photograph well, and are substantially easier to coordinate, since it does not matter if some guests happen to start blowing bubbles before you're ready to depart.
Birdseed, Flower Petals, Confetti
These tossable items are another great choice if the venue allows it. My favorite part about this kind of send-off is that it usually ends up being quite chaotic and energetic. As the couple is running through the lineup of guests, they are being inundated with these things being thrown by guests, and there's almost always a groomsman or two who makes it their personal mission to dump a huge double-handful of this stuff onto the fleeing couple. While this may not (or may!) sound like the most enjoyable way to end your wedding, rest assured that it makes for GREAT photographs!