Every year, Detroiters gather in Midtown on Second Avenue, adorned in their wildest costumes and floats, to banish the Nain Rouge and celebrate its expulsion from the city.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Marche du Nain Rouge—sometimes referred to as “Detroit’s Mardi Gras”—which marks the beginning of Spring and recognizes this oddity of Detroit history. (The Marche is always held on the first Sunday after the first day of Spring.)
Here’s everything you need to know to get the most out of your Marche experience.
When? Sunday, March 24 at noon. The marching will begin at 1 p.m.
Where? The march starts at the intersection of Second Avenue and Canfield Street and ends where Second Avenue meets Cass Park. An afterparty takes place at the Masonic Temple.
What happens at the Marche?
The event kicks off with a series of live performances from local artists—musicians, comedians, and others. At 1 p.m., the march begins as the Gabriel Brass Band leads the procession south on Second. Local journalists Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley will commentate the march (à la anchors at a parade).
Francis Grunow, director and co-founder of the Marche, describes it as, “Halloween meets Burning Man meets New Year’s Day parade.”
Around 1:30 p.m., the Nain Rouge makes its appearance on the steps of the Masonic Temple where it reveals its plans for causing havoc in Detroit and elsewhere. An afterparty at the Masonic Temple follows.
What the heck is the Nain Rouge?
Before the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac founded Detroit, a fortune teller warned him about the Nain Rouge (which literally translates to “red dwarf”) and that he needed to appease it. But Cadillac didn’t heed the warning and Detroit has been “cursed” by the Nain ever since.
Eyewitnesses professed to have seen it at various calamities in Detroit, like the Great Fire of 1805, General William Hull surrendering to the British in the War of 1812, and even the 1967 Rebellion.
At the annual Marche, the Nain has claimed responsibility for a whole variety of disasters, from emergency management to the polar vortex. Last year, it said it was responsible for the outbreak of fake news.
What’s the significance of the Marche?
It’s a chance to shed all the negativity of winter by channeling it into the Nain. The event is colorful, festive, and followed by a party.
“It’s a catharsis, it’s spring, and it’s a way for people to rally around the good things about the city,” Grunow says. “You can come in an alter ego or whatever it is you’re feeling or dreaming about.”
Not everyone loves the parade, however. Some feel it’s an analogy for gentrification and a different kind of casting out. But Grunow is okay with that—people are free interpret the Nain however they want. “What’s fascinating about the Nain is that it has elements of good and bad. It involves choices. And everybody interprets it differently.”
What should I wear?
Whatever you want! Wearing costumes is part of the tradition since it prevents the Nain from recognizing and then cursing you. There’s even a costume contest judged by Henderson and Finley.
Costumes aren’t necessary, but red and black clothing is definitely encouraged.
How do I get there?
Second Avenue will be blocked off, so try to stay south of Temple or north of Canfield.
Sunday is generally a low-traffic day, so parking in the nearby side-streets might be doable if you arrive early enough. You can get a discounted rate by parking at Wayne State University-owned structures or lots.
QLine or buses provide easy access to the area. A nice pro-tip would be to park a little bit away and use a MoGo bike share. If you take Lyft, you can use the code “NAINROUGE” to get 25 percent off rides to or from the event.
The Marche is free. Open carry of alcohol is not allowed.
Otherwise, come dressed up and ready to have a good time.