If you’re a visitor and new to this celebration, you will part of what may be the biggest party in the world. Let me give you some facts. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. It is always celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday so the date changes every year. In 2008, it falls on February 5. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and for New Orleans' Catholics that means sacrifice. Mardi Gras is the last bash before Lent, but this is New Orleans, and one day of partying is simply not enough. Technically the season of Mardi Gras, called Carnival, begins on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.
The Carnival Season
On January 6th, Carnival officially begins. Some organizations have elaborate balls or parties in which the royalty of the individual group or "krewe" is presented. You must be invited in order to attend these functions. Then, about two weeks before Mardi Gras, the parades begin.
There are many types of parades. The older krewes have the tableau balls, and a king and queen elected from within the krewe. Some of these krewes date back to the 1800's and really helped to form Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. The Krewe of Rex dates back to 1872 and is the oldest of these parades. The king of Rex is the official king of Carnival and parades on Mardi Gras.
The "super krewes" were more recently founded and are larger parades. The floats are often several times the size of the floats in the old line parades. Instead of having more traditional balls, these super krewes have lavish parties immediately after their parades, and feature celebrity monarchs. The Krewe of Endymion kicks off the first “super krewe” parade on the Saturday before Mardi Gras. Bacchus follows the next night. Both founded in the 1960's, Endymion and Bacchus are the oldest of the super krewes. Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) is the day before Mardi Gras , and Orpheus, the newest of the super krewes parades on that night
All of the expenses are paid solely by the club. There are no commercial sponsors for Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras Parades
Parade Routes. The traditional route for the New Orleans parades is down St. Charles Avenue and into the Central Business District. Endymion ,which begins at City Park and travels into the Central Business District from Canal Street, is the one exception. At one time, when the floats and crowds were smaller, parades actually made their way through the narrow streets of the French Quarter. Today,only a few parades actually go into this historic section of town.
Throws. Most Mardi Gras parades throw things to the crowd. Beads are the main things that are thrown, but plastic cups and doubloons (coins) with the date and the krewe's theme for the year are also thrown. Most parades have their own unique items to throw to the crowds. Zulu, which parades on Mardi Gras, have beautifully decorated and hand-painted coconuts. They are not allowed to throw these for obvious reasons, but they can hand these to the crowd below. These coconuts are in great demand.
Kid-friendly Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is family-friendly, contrary to popular belief. The favorite spot for viewing is on St. Charles Avenue, somewhere between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. Ladders for children can be seen for miles in this area. By law, these ladders must be as far back from the curb as they are high, and an adult must stand on the ladder with the child.
Krewe members usually throw a lot in this area because of the abundance of kids. It is quite a family atmosphere, and the preferred food seems to be barbecue.
It all ends at midnight
No matter where you spend Mardi Gras, this big party ends at midnight. Street cleaners, lead by mounted police clear the mass crowds of people off Bourbon Street. If you are new to Mardi Gras, believe what I’m telling you. All the excitement ends at midnight.
Come and visit our wonderful city and experience the magic of Mardi Gras. Whether on Bourbon Street or St. Charles Avenue, laissez les bons temps rouler. “Let the good times roll”.