IT’S MARDI GRAS!!!!! Yes, New Orleans’ famous Carnival season is this years’ never-ending party and you’re invited. Mardi Gras, famous for its colorful and cultural parades, is an experience you can’t go any longer w/out! The Streets are packed with both tourists and Native Louisianans as they celebrate Mardi Gras in full color and sound. . The Huge Parades come flashing down the street we fresh music, an explosion of lights, and spectacular floats. Everyone is having a great time, enjoying the festivities of the parade. So you’re new to Mardi Gras, but don’t want to act like it? Here in brief, are the basic facts about Americas’ greatest party.
Carnival season begins on January sixth while the actual date of Mardi Gras varies every year. Mardi Gras Day is the “Fat Tuesday” before Ash Wednesday and Lent. Ok, you will need to know a bit about its’ history. The origin of Mardi Gras can be traced back to Rome in the middle ages w/ the welcoming of Spring. In 1872, the appearance of Rex as the King of Mardi Gras brought about the presentation of Carnivals’ colors, flag and anthem. The colors of Mardi Gras are purple , gold, and green. While they were probably chosen simply because they looked good together, a meaning was assigned to each of them by King Rex. Purple represents “justice”, Green stands for “faith”, and Gold signifies “power”. A group known in the 1830’s as the Comus organization established several Mardi Gras traditions such as the word “Krewe” which is the name for the parades members.
Comus also chose
mythological names for the Parades for more of a rich tradition. Many of the Popular Parades are named after Greek Gods such as Bacchus, Orpheus, Endymion, and even the African parade, Zulu.
Nowadays, the actual Parades are organized mainly of large colorful floats pulled by tractors or Mack trucks. These floats are usually two stories with large statues and decorations, telling the story of each floats theme. Parades also consist of Marching bands, ROTC/Color Guards, Radio Stations vehicles, and even policemen. The Krewe of the float are dressed in mask and costume for their float. The average Krewe member might spend around three to four hundred dollars on beads and such. While beads and pearls are the main catches, there are many other things to be caught at parade, so bring a bag.
Cups are thrown at random with the parades theme designed on them. Doubloons which are aluminum coin-like objects bearing the Krewe’s insignia on one side and the parades theme on the reverse. You can see the sparkling of the coins in the air and there’s that all too familiar “ding-ding” sound when they hit the street. You can see the crowd bending over to look for them on the ground. Little toys and stuffed animals are some of the many little trinkets thrown about. Of course there is always some one waving around colorful underwear to give out to the deserving fan.
For someone new to Mardi Gras, you must first simply relax and have fun. It is a time for families to bring the kids out for some fun and celebration. The local Newspaper will have listings of the daily parades. For the younger kids, going to any of the Day-Time parades is best. The streets are packed w/ cleverly costumed paraders, marching bands, music, and thousands of people. It’s good to get there early to grab a spot to set up since the good spots tend to disappear quickly. Waiting for the parade to make it to your area can be tedious, so brink some food and chairs. Sun block would be a good idea as well, it may be sunny out there. When the floats arrive they will be tossing hundreds of beads, cups, doubloons, and little toys overboard into the streets. Since there are so many people in the crowd, you should try to get the “Krewe’s” attention. Many people bring ladders w/ seats built on top for their children to sit on. Or perhaps a sign to get the Krewe members to notice you. Hopefully they will toss you the best of what they have to throw. Or you can simply do what everyone else is doing and run around yelling, “Hey, Throw me somethin’ Mister!!”.
Mardi Gras has its’ wild side as well, it is a non-stop party. Parking lots are filled w/ people tailgating, barbeques, and drinking. It’s a time for Teenagers to try to party w/ their friends and consume as much alcohol w/out getting caught. The night parades are fun too, especially in downtown New
Orleans. It is often cold around this time of year, so dress warmly. The old time buildings and apartments have people standing out on the balcony trying to get a better view. There are beads draped over the railings to add to the colorful nightlife. Some of the really nice beads thrown can be like a Mark McGwire Home run landing in the stands. People will jump and grab for them w/out any concern for who’s in the way. Many times the members of the Krewe will tease the girls w/ really nice beads or even colorful underwear in order for them to lift up their shirts. Don’t worry ladies, the All-Women Krewe’s do the same thing for the guys, causing lots of pants and underwear to drop. These people who reveal themselves are rewarded w/ the best beads and pearls. Although this works, don’t worry , it’s very likely that you will catch some nice ones w/out exposing yourself. It’s not one big topless party, this only happens for a few seconds. Sorry guys……
With all the drinking and exposed bodies, it’s not surprising that tempers will flare. There’s always a fight every now and then, but the Police are there on hoarse back to keep a peaceful eye on the crowd. They allow everyone to have fun, just not violence. Most of the wildness takes place on Bourbon Street in the famous “French Quarter”. People walk through the crowds, the trash, and the passed out drunks, while looking at the exotic clubs and strip bars. Walking around can be the tough part, lots of people doing the same thing. A good idea is to keep your wallet or purse very close to you!!! Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not one big naked, drunken, fighting party of thieves, but like any other large event, Mardi Gras tends to attract the jerks as well.
Mardi Gras also Attracts Celebrities.
The tradition of having a famous Hollywood Star represent the King of the parade started by King Rex in 1969 w/ actor Danny Kaye. This usually only happens for the Big Name Parades such as Bacchus, Endymion, Zulu, and Orpheus which is owned by Harry Connick Jr. himself. Since then, many big stars have made their present felt as King here in the Crescent City. A handful of the big names include: John Goodman, Steven Segal, Tom Arnold, Kirk Douglas, and Drew Carey. The stars will ride atop the Kings’ Float dressed in Carnival attire tossing beads and pearls into the crowd, while giving a little wave to all the loyal fans out there. Famous Musicians get a chance at center stage themselves such as Kenny Rogers and The Beach Boys. The Mardi Gras Balls are held after the larger night parades. The Ball is very formal and usually held in very large facilities such as the Super Dome. A large section is cut off for dining, while at the same time, the parade flows into the room where it makes its final stop. It’s tough to get into the Ball, you usually have to be a member of the Krewe or one of their guests. The King is applauded as he enters and the party begins w/ the tossing of beads and the great food as well.
The food and culture of New Orleans is just as popular as the Parades.
There is a Carnival specialty that is only made and sold during the season of Mardi Gras, the King Cake; an oval, colorful sugared pastry that contains a plastic baby doll hidden inside. The person who finds the doll is crowned “King” and buys the next cake or throws the next party. This is the most famous Mardi Gras treat, many are filled with cream cheese, fruit fillings, or just cake.
Of course you will want to go get something to drink. There are many bars to do so, but the most popular and famous would be Pat O’Briens. Located in the French Quarter, the place is famous for it’s “Hurricane” drink, and very strong alcoholic beverage served in a twenty-nine ounce hand blown crested glass. These glasses are then yours to take home, a great souvenir! If it’s coffee you crave, take a stroll or carriage ride through the Quarter and over to Cafe’ du Monde. It’s famous for it’s beignets, a square-shaped donut minus the hole, dusted w/ powdered sugar, great w/ coffee.
The culture of New Orleans is at its best during Mardi Gras. However so are hotels, so if you’re planning on making the trip and staying in downtown New Orleans, make reservations a few months in advance. Despite the French Quarters old historic appeal, there are many excellent hotels to stay at. Well, this is how they do it down in “Nawlins”, so if you want a bite of culture and fun, Mardi Gras is the place for you. It’s just one of those things you have to visit once, take a few friends and family and a note to remind you that you have to go back eventually. Be sure to make it there a few days before the actual Mardi Gras day, to get a feel for it all, b/c after that, it’s gone for another year. Treat yourself to something different this year, something fun, something wild, treat yourself to Mardi Gras. Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!! ( Let the good times role)