The Outsider's Guide to Marche du Nain Rouge

Published On 03/19/2015 Published On 03/19/2015
Kate Cho

In the grand tradition of Detroit's major drinking holidays -- the St. Patrick's Day Corktown Parade, Tigers' Opening Day, Paczki Day in Hamtramck, Labor Day in Hamtramck, Tour de Troit -- comes the Marche du Nain Rouge, a free springtime parade/party that is steeped in historic traditions born from the area's French settlers, making it, essentially, Detroit's answer to Mardi Gras.
Held every year on the Sunday after the spring equinox in March, the Marche du Nain Rouge was revived in 2010 with a few hundred people and some wheelbarrows, and has turned into a full-scale parade with homemade non-motorized neighborhood "floats" (also called "chariots"), thousands of elaborately and/or ridiculously costumed marchers, and a host of coordinating events and "Nain specials" at local bars and shops.
If you're new to the city, in town for the weekend, or don't know Nain from Shinola, here's a quick primer for you. 

Kate Cho

What is the Nain Rouge?

The Nain Rouge is the red dwarf, or red devil, or red goblin -- whichever small-ish, twisted, humanoid, hell-raising creature of myth you prefer -- that is known as a harbinger of doom and has tormented the city of Detroit since the days of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French settler of Detroit. Soon after seeing the Nain in 1701, Cadillac lost his fortune. Since then, the Nain is said to have appeared before the aptly-named Battle of Bloody Run in 1763, the Great Fire of 1805 that almost completely wiped the city from the map, the catastrophic 1967 riot that has become a defining moment in Detroit's modern history, and various smaller crimes and personal tragedies.

Kate Cho

Got it. So what is the Marche du Nain Rouge then?

Every year on the Sunday after the spring equinox, Detroiters gather to celebrate the city and banish the Nain Rogue and his evil machinations, a revival of an Olde Detroit tradition that culminated with the burning of an effigy of the Nain. Nowadays, the Nain himself makes a personal appearance at the parade to revel in his own destructive glory and taunt the crowd with promises of future demise -- yet every year since the Marche's 2010 revival, Detroit's own revival seems to get stronger and stronger. Coincidence? Detroiters aren't taking any chances.

Kate Cho

Are costumes mandatory?

Marchers are encouraged to come in costume so that the Nain can't recognize them upon his return and exact his revenge. That said, no, costumes are not "mandatory," but... are you really that lame? Maybe just stay home and clean the bathroom if you're too cool for a costume. P.S., while there is no standard costume prescription, it should go without saying that red is the preferred color. 

Kate Cho

Where is the Marche held?

The Marche du Nain Rouge is held throughout Midtown, starting on West Canfield in front of Traffic Jam & Snug and Motor City Brewing Works, and ending at Cass Park in front of the Masonic Temple -- where the "official" after-party is held, though pretty much all of the Cass Corridor is the after-party, from Honest John's to the Old Miami.

Sweet! But WHEN is this year's Marche?

This year the Marche is on Sunday, March 22 at 1pm.

Kate Cho




Mar 22 Sun

Marche du Nain Rouge  


Marche du Nain Rouge Midtown  



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