Everything You Need To Know About Wedding Parades

Learn about the tradition and its meaning.

Second Line March

Photo by Tec Petaja

The ceremony is over and it's time to celebrate. Oftentimes, couples kick off a night of celebration by exiting to an exciting, personal recessional song and having guests shower them with rose petals, rice, lavender, or even bubbles. But that party only lasts for the walk down the aisle, and maybe down the steps or out the door of your ceremony venue. So, why not continue the festivities with a wedding parade?

What Is a Wedding Parade?

A Wedding parade, also commonly known as a second line, is a celebration for just-married couples. The main line consists of the newlyweds, the brass band, and a grand marshal while the second line includes the wedding party and passersby.

As you consider integrating this tradition into your wedding, questions will likely arise: How do we go about finding a band? What should we bring along with us? How long should it last? Where did the tradition begin, anyway? Ahead, we break it all down.

Meet the Expert

Samantha Capone is a wedding planner and founder of Three Little Words in New Orleans.

The History and Meaning of the Wedding Parade

This idea of a festive parade dates back to 19th century New Orleans, when the city's famous "jazz funerals" took on a new, celebratory light. In this practice, known more formally as the "second line," big brass bands (called the first line) lead partygoers and anyone enjoying the music (the second line) through the streets to celebrate a major event like a wedding. "Second lines originated from the African-American community," Samantha Capone explains. "Social aid and pleasure clubs would host parades with the band and club members. Over time, the second line has evolved into its own art form that we use to celebrate marriages, funerals, holidays, and even Saints games. And, yes, funerals are truly a celebration of life here in New Orleans." 

But you don't have to be in NOLA to have a wedding parade of this magnitude. In fact, it's popular in other places, too. In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, it's customary for wedding parties to go through the streets with larger-than-life papier-mâché mojigangas (large puppets)—and often, burros carrying papier-mâché flowers and tequila shots.

Wedding Parade FAQs

When should the wedding parade take place?

It can vary, Capone explains, but they're usually done after the ceremony or at the end of the reception. "When done after the ceremony, it is a great way to move everyone from one venue to another or to give your venue time to flip the ceremony space for the reception," she says. "At the end of the reception, it's an unparalleled send-off for the newlyweds." 

How long should it last?

"A second line should be about 20 minutes," Capone notes, "which sounds short but dancing through the streets is more tiring than it looks, especially in formal wear." 

Who should be a part of it?

The lineup usually includes a grand marshal, band members, the wedding party, guests, and, of course, the bride and the groom. If you're worried about older guests or those who are not able-bodied being left out, Capone says that companies like hers always make sure to have a pedicab available for anyone who might need it.

What if strangers join in?

"Couples are sometimes concerned about random people joining in on their second line, but that's actually completely in the spirit of how this tradition originated and it's definitely part of the fun," Capone says. "When it comes to parades, the more the merrier." 

What if it rains?

Inclement weather is always a possibility and it's really up to the couple as to what they want to do. If it's a torrential downpour, you might forego it altogether. Otherwise, if it's a little bit of a drizzle, you can still choose to go forth and provide umbrellas and head coverings for guests.

What kind of music should we play?

There are traditional second-line songs that the band typically plays, but Capone notes that, if requested, some may also play covers of songs that are important to the couple.

"A fun twist on this tradition is to have the brass band sneak in during your ceremony so they can play your recessional song," says Capone. "If your venue can accommodate this, it's an incredibly delightful surprise for your guests."

How much does it typically cost?

According to Capone, the band can cost anywhere from $600-$1,000 and the permit and police escort are around $500. "You can file the permit on your own, but some people pay someone else to file it for them," she notes.

Should we provide parade favors for guests?

If you can and if it's in your budget, absolutely. Typically, the bride and groom carry parasols and the wedding party and guests follow with handkerchiefs. Mardi gras beads, tambourines, masks, and other accessories are some other options.

How to Have a Wedding Parade

Planning a wedding parade, on top of putting together a ceremony and reception, can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Hiring a coordinator who specializes in second-lines to ensure it goes off without a hitch is an option but there are also a series of steps to take if you're venturing out on your own.

Plan your route.

As we mentioned before, second lines are perfect for transporting your party from the ceremony to the reception which means they should be fairly close together. Routes are usually around six to eight blocks long, and you'll need to go with the flow of traffic.

Get your permit and escorts.

You'll have to contact the city where you're having your wedding to figure out the details of the permit and the laws you'll have to abide by. They usually take around 30-90 days for approval so don't leave this until the last minute. While parading in the street is the more traditional option, you can also have it on the sidewalk which usually doesn't require a permit. Some cities, like New Orleans, require you to hire a police escort, which is in charge of closing the streets to traffic.

Hire your band.

There are a number of websites that you can sort through to find a band that you vibe with. "If your guests are very unfamiliar with second lines and might not know what to do, consider hiring a grand marshal as well," Capone outlines on her website. "This person can act as the 'hype-man' to ensure your guests enjoy your wedding parade."

Related Stories