Mardi Gras offers extravagant parades, great music and delicious food
Most know Mardi Gras as the epic party through the streets of New Orleans, but those who have experienced the bash first hand know there’s more substance than French Quarter debauchery.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in French, refers to the events of the carnival celebration that play out on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany. The celebration formally ends just before Ash Wednesday, culminating as the Lent season begins. While the carnival is celebrated in quite a few countries, it’s mostly famous in New Orleans.
The carnival season begins in New Orleans on Epiphany, which is also known as the Three Kings Day, in early January. Several smaller parades lead up to the parading period of 12 days. The last five days, however, make up the main event, with the grandest parades and parties.
The first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed near present-day New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed their landing spot Point du Mardi Gras.
Today, Mardi Gras is one of the world’s biggest parties. But it’s also become an exhibit for New Orleans’ unique culture. Here’s a few tips to get the most out a Mardi Gras experience.
1) Get the greeting right
The official greeting of Mardi Gras is “laissez les bon temps rouler.” Not surprisingly, in Cajun French it means “let the good times roll.”
2) Come hungry
The arrival of king cake indicates that Mardi Gras season is here. This cake is also unique because it has a small plastic baby hidden inside it. Depending on each family’s tradition, whoever finds the baby enjoys a year of good luck or has to buy the next cake or host the next party.
The king cake is just the beginning. Abundance of rich dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, fried shrimp po’ boys and beignets all help Fat Tuesday earn its name.
3) Follow a krewe
A krewe refers to a social organization that puts on a parade or ball for the Carnival season.
Most of the krewes are named after Greek or Roman mythology. While some have been around hosting parades for a long time, others are newer. Of these krewes, some are easy to get into, while others have long waitlists. The private organizations also charge yearly membership fees.
At each krewe’s parade, the line up begins with the leader of the krewe, after which comes either the king or queen. They are followed by the dukes and maids and then the rest of the members. While the street parade may look chaotic, it’s actually well organized.
4) Discover the Mardi Gras behind the floats
Many krewes start working on the theme for the following year almost as soon as Fat Tuesday is over. Members of the krewes spend countless hours designing and creating their floats throughout the year.
When you’re on a float, it’s not only a tradition to wear a mask or paint your face, but also the law to do so. This practice was started to encourage people to talk to others beyond their social circle.
5) Tune in to the music
Since the beginning, brass bands have been the bread and butter of New Orleans’ music scene. And every Mardi Gras season, this vibrant music is what ties all of the varying traditions together.
Nearly every parade throughout the Carnival season leads with a troupe of trumpets, saxophones, trombones, sousaphones and percussion. Some of these early jazz bands helped launch the careers of musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.
6) Check out Mardi Gras elsewhere
If you’ve caught the bug, it’s worth visiting one of the many other cities that celebrate Fat Tuesday. Cities throughout Italy, Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Colombia are known for ringing in the
New Orleans isn’t the only place that celebrates Mardi Gras. It’s also celebrated in Italy, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, and many other countries with large Roman Catholic populations.