When that first strand of beads hits you in the head, you know you’ve arrived at Mardi Gras. Garish floats, masked strangers, marching bands, throngs of revelers invading your space… For newcomers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the madness. But that first string of low-flying beads? Consider it your invitation to join the fun. Our advice? Accept the beads, embrace the chaos and laissez les bon temps rouler.
Springtime hedonism has its roots in early pagan traditions and fertility rites, when uninhibited behavior was followed by a period of civilized forbearance. The Catholic Church institutionalized these rituals, establishing a season of feasting before the start of Lenten fasting on Ash Wednesday. The word carnevale comes from a late Latin expression meaning ‘farewell to the flesh’, essentially one long goodbye to your dinner. The final day of fun is known as Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday’.
Pick Your Krewe
Most krewes share a love of parties, parades and royalty, with kings, queens and other royal courtiers waving to the crowd from spectacular floats. What adds the spark? The unique, sometimes wacky, personalities of the different krewes and their free trinkets, called throws, which are tossed to the crowd.
Timeline for Mardi Gras 2016
The day of Mardi Gras is observed 47 days before Easter, and it can fall on any Tuesday between February 3rd and March 9th. In 2016, it falls on Tuesday February 9th but the official parade season begins 12 days before this. Early parades tend to be low-key, family friendly affairs; the processions grow increasingly elaborate and raucous as Fat Tuesday approaches. For the full list of parades, see the official Mardi Gras website (mardigrasneworleans.com).
Top tips for a great Mardi Gras
- Pick your procession Parades carouse through New Orleans on different routes. All the parades are fun, but check times and locations so that you don’t miss the ones likeliest to strike your fancy. Zulu and Rex are always a good bet. The parade scene gets rowdier and more crowded as Mardi Gras approaches.
- Consider your view What is most important to you during a parade? Proximity to a bathroom? Somewhere to sit? A prime spot for your kid on the sidewalk? Do a little research to avoid disappointment. Some churches will let you use their restrooms for a small fee, and there are seating stands on some routes.
- Wear a costume You don’t have to don a mask or costume, but you might appear lame if you don’t. And really, who wants that?
- Step on doubloons Your fingers will get smashed if you reach for these popular coin throws when they hit the street. Instead, step on the doubloon to claim it and wait for a chance to pick it up. And remember, locals can get feisty when scrambling for unique throws. Don’t take their efforts personally. As one resident explained, ‘All is fair when trying to catch something.’
- Beware of Bourbon Street Rowdy drunks. Sloshing beer. And naughty flashes of, well, whatever you can imagine. From the final weekend of carnival until Tuesday night, Bourbon Street is a mosh pit of sweaty drunken mayhem – a good or bad thing depending on your persuasion.
- Embrace the chaos Don’t stress too much about parade schedules or things going wrong. Carnival is one long party. Surprises and goofs add to the fun and the memories.