Mardi Gras 101
For those of you who live outside Louisiana and the day before Ash Wednesday is just another Tuesday, here's a 10-point primer on everything Mardi Gras.
1. Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, a day to live it up before you give it up. In 2019, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, March 5. The bulk of parades and other festivities occur the two weeks prior with most happening on the weekend prior.
2. Carnival is the season that begins on Twelfth Night or Jan. 6 and culminates at Mardi Gras. In between those two dates are Carnival balls (like the photo at right), parades and festivities.
3. Krewes are the organizations that make up Carnival. They usually have balls in which kings and queens are chosen (see photo, right), debutantes are announced and they later parade through the streets throwing beads and other fun items. Not all krewes have balls. Not all krewes have parades. Some, like the Krewe des Chiens in Lafayette (see photo at the end of this blog) have a ball that serves as a fundraiser for animal rescue, plus a parade of dogs.
4. New Orleans hosts the largest Carnival celebration but the holiday is celebrated through the Gulf South. Mobile, Alabama, started the krewe system so you'll hear them bragging about how they started Mardi Gras. (Kinda true but the first recorded celebration happened in Louisiana in 1699.) You'll also see big celebrations happening in Houma, Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana, plus Galveston, Texas, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
5. Carnival "throws" are what people throw from parade floats. Usually, you'll catch beads, doubloons, cups and fun items such as stuff animals, Frisbees and candy. People yell at the float rides in an effort to get their attention and snag "good beads" and such. The old yell phrase — although still used by some today — was "Throw Me Something, Mista!"
6. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not just for those who want to party. It's also for families. You'll hear towns all over bragging how they are not like New Orleans, they are family-friendly. And even though that is true for those towns, Carnival and Mardi Gras is a deep-rooted tradition in New Orleans, much like celebrating Halloween and Christmas. There are more than a million people living in the Crescent City and this holiday means the world to them so obviously they don't leave their children at home. Besides, it's about parades!!
If you want to come to New Orleans and bring your kids, please do! Just know where to go. Uptown, Mid-City and the suburbs are the most family-friendly. The closer you get to downtown, the more you'll find tourists and college students looking for a good time and it tends to get R-rated. Night parades are rowdier than day parades, something else to consider. My favorite is St. Charles Avenue in the uptown section of New Orleans where families gather, set up chairs and ladders for the kids and play football in the street between parades. It's like a giant family gathering. Best day to do this is the Sunday before Mardi Gras when three parades roll during the day. Also, the dog parades are a real hit with younger kids and, since I live in Lafayette, adore the Krewe des Chiens parade (see photo at bottom).
7. Because there are so many parades with riders throwing beads, you'll find beads in the trees lining streets for months afterwards. Sometimes, residents decorate trees in their yards for fun (see photo, left).
8. We also love to decorate for Carnival. I have a tabletop tree that I used for Christmas and decided to leave it up and decorate for Mardi Gras. If you want to see more photos of my decorations, plus ones I take throughout the Carnival season, like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.
9. Get a parade route once you get into town. Know where the parades are going and when. Otherwise, you'll be stuck in traffic and that's not fun.
10. If you're going to party hardy, don't get too crazy. In New Orleans and other cities, we're pretty tolerant during Mardi Gras but that doesn't mean if you break the law you will NOT go to jail. And be nice. This is our party but everyone's invited. Like a party, however, as a guest you should be nice to your host.
And last...if you need a good read to get you in the Carnival mood, download my "Carnival Confessions" short novella. It's FREE to download. Click here.