Mardi Gras

Women in Mardi Gras

Chuck Wagner /

When it comes to what is truly the biggest party in the world, explaining it is no easy feat. If you are not from New Orleans, you may have a pre-conceived notion about Mardi Gras – but most people have no clue what it’s all about! People who have grown up in New Orleans just kind of accept Mardi Gras as one of the commonplace annual events of life. The spirit of Mardi Gras lives deeply within the bones of New Orleans and all its residents, and come Mardi Gras, everyone–literally everyone becomes part of the festivities and celebration. For them, it comes second to breathing. Funny, that children growing up in New Orleans have to eventually learn that Mardi Gras is not a nationally recognized and celebrated holiday. Visitors–well, that’s another story.

Timing of Mardi Gras
Because Mardi Gras (French, for “Fat Tuesday,”) is always annually celebrated on the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, the date is not the same, from year to year. It’s basically a “throw all caution and cares to the wind” kind of celebration, with wild revelling and debauchery that goes on for days, and would get you arrested anywhere else. This excessively hedonistic celebration contrasts the sacrificial requirements of Lent. And technically, the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 is what kicks off the whole Carnival season. So, essentially, Carnival refers to the season, and Mardi Gras is the day. This being said, the New Orleans parades begin around two weeks before the day of Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras Krewes

Chuck Wagner /

These private clubs are the hosts of Mardi Gras and all other associated Carnival events. The individual members of the Krewes are solely financially responsible for paying all connected expenses of this party, and there is absolutely no sponsorship from outside commercial sources. New “Super Krewes” being larger in scale put on much bigger scale parades, with lavish parties that follow these parades, where celebrity kings are featured. These begin with Endymion, the Saturday preceding Mardi Gras. The next night’s parade is Bacchus. These two parades are the “big boys” of the Super Krewes, and the newest parade to join this lineup is Orpheus, which takes place on Fat Monday. Because of the narrow streets of the French Quarter, you’ll have to leave this area in order to see the big parades.

A central mainstay of the parades is the trinkets that are tossed from the floats, with the most commonly tossed items being plastic beads. There are other items you can catch, like plastic cups and doubloons imprinted with the date and the theme of the specific tossing krewe for that year. Some krewes make special items to share, with certain ones being hand painted and beautifully decorated items. The Zulus decorate coconuts to deliver. They are not allowed to throw these, but they can hand them out. In specific areas designated as “family-friendly,” it’s not uncommon to find stuffed animals being passed out to attending children. These areas contrastingly reveal family barbecues and picnics that are nothing like the party frenzy elsewhere.

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