Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My First Mardi Gras

This was my first Mardi Gras experience, and it was just the way I expected it - lots of colorful floats (Krewes), beads or 'throws' tossed,  people in masks and costumes and festive, friendly atmosphere all over.


What images do Mardi Gras evoke for you? To many, it's a carnival. Are Carnival and Mardi Gras the same thing? No, Melania, don't confuse Carnival and Mardi Gras! Carnival refers to the period of feasting and fun which always begins on January 6th, The Feast of the Epiphany.

Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. (Source:http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/faq.html#three)


You might ask, who organizes and pays for Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras parade krewes are private non-profit organizations whose members get together year round to plan their parade's theme, costumes, and unique throws. Each Carnival Club, as they are known, is individually funded by its members. They support their krewe through dues, sales of krewe-related merchandise to their members, and fundraising. Mardi Gras parade krewes may not have corporate sponsors.

The city of New Orleans is not involved in coordinating Mardi Gras parades -- their only involvement is to issue parade permits to each individual Mardi Gras krewe who schedules and coordinates their own parades. (Source: http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/faq.html#five).

Aerial view from St. Charles Avenue, NOLA

Yes, literally  Mardi Gras  means "Fat Tuesday", an annual celebration held in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.

A krewe often names their parade after a particular Roman or Greek mythological hero or god like Hermes, Thoth, Edymion, Zulu, etc.

The ranking structure of a Mardi Gras Krewe is a parody of royalty: King, Queen, Dukes, Knights and Captains, or some variation on that theme. Many more established krewes allowed membership by invitation only. (source:http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/mardigrasindians.html)

Krewe float riders toss throws to the crowds; the most common throws are strings of plastic colorful beads.   Watch these two videos I recorded just for you:

While many tourists center their Mardi Gras season activities on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, none of the major Mardi Gras parades has entered the Quarter since 1972 because of its narrow streets and overhead obstructions. Instead, major parades originate in the Uptown and Mid-City districts and follow a route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, on the upriver side of the French Quarter. Exposing body parts, or "flashing",in an effort to catch more beads or throws, is frowned up by the police department and can be grounds for a ticket or an arrest.

 Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year.

One of the floats at St. Charles Avenue

Why are masks worn?

By law, float riders must always have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for everyone else, and the elaborate masks that some wear add to the fun.


Also, as one of the thousands who'd catch beads and other goodies, you'd like to stand out in the crowd.   It's a good idea to wear a costume or something unique.

Sometimes a crazy hat will do the trick.


Gimmicks like this catch the eye and actually work :)


How long have "throws" been around?

The tradition of float riders throwing trinkets to the crowds began in the 1870s, and still continues today. Typical throws include beads, cups, doubloons, and stuffed animalMardi Gras beads and other goodies.

Our 'catch' for the day - beads, stuffed toy, plastic cigar, ball

Painted Coconut Shell
And if you have not been thrown what you like, you could always buy from the street peddlers.


             Mardi Gas Symbols and Colors

King Cake

Our King Cake. Notice the 'trinket', small plastic baby nesting on the beads. This plastic baby s represents Baby Jesus and is hidden inside (or sometimes placed underneath) the cake, and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations.
In the U.S. Gulf Coast since the 1950s, the most common trinket has been a small plastic baby doll. Earlier ceramic baby boys as trinkets are documented in New Orleans back to the 1930s. A king wearing a crown is the next most common trinket. Other figures have been seen historically, and starting in the 1990s again became more common in the more expensive "gourmet" varieties of king cake. In New Orleans in recent years, figurines are sold in the shape of a breast or penis, or depict a man or woman in a lascivious pose. The common plastic baby of today is usually colored pink, brown, white or gold. Because of the potential choking hazard, some bakeries include the trinket separately from the pastry.

Privileges and obligations

The person who gets the trinket is declared the King or Queen of the day. Sometimes there are separate cakes to select the king and queen. In New Orleans, the cake for women is sometimes called a Queen Cake. The king or queen is usually obligated to supply the next king cake or host the next party or both. King cake parties may be held at the homes of people who live on or near the routes of Mardi Gras parades.

Ever wonder about the history of the official Mardi Gras colors? Rex selected the official Mardi Gras colors in 1872, honoring the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexis Alexandrovich Romanoff, who suggested the colors. The 1892 Rex Parade theme "Symbolism of Colors" affirmed the colors' meaning.

Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. And Gold Represents Power.
Note that the building decor below used the Mardi Gras colors for this festive season.

It's cool to wear Mardi Gras color too:
After the parade, the garbage was remarkable:

A friend said that  the 'success' or popularity of the Mardi Gras parade is measured by the amount of garbage collected afterwards.  I'd say that judging by the tons and tons of garbage collected, the Mardi Gras parade was a super success!
But the garbage was only temporary, as the cleaners and garbage trucks were very quick to the draw.
  Sweepers were so fast at clearing the streets

Garbage collection was fast

Everything was back to normal  at Charles Avenue

Let me finish by quoting once more from MardiGrasNewOrleans.com:

We try to remember what Mardi Gras has always been in this predominantly Catholic/Christian city--the last day before Ash Wednesday, when we receive ashes and begin 40 days of sacrifice in imitation of Our Lord, ending at Easter when we celebrate the Resurrection!
And even as the Mardi Gras Parade is over, - let the good times roll

Laissez les bons temps rouler!!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thomas, thanks for your comment. It's Mardi Gras time again, almost! The goal of catching the beads is not only for collecting beads, but for the joy of catching. Also, the seasoned beads catcher who may have already sacks of cheap beads from previous Mardi Gras would prefer more sophisticated souvenirs like limited-edition shoes, glass beads, toys, etc. Hope you'll enjoy the coming Mardi Gras.

  2. I recently experienced my first pre-Mardi Gras parades, had such a good time, I think I'm ready for the real deal, maybe in a year or two. I was amazed at the garbage just after a couple of second tier Krewe parages, I couldn't help but wondering why there were so many beads just left on the ground. I did pick a few up but no one else was so just relied mostly on just the ones I caught, which after the first two parades, I let a lot just fly, couldn't take them all home! Already had like 20 lbs, just amzing.

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