Guide to Mardi Gras
A quick practical guide to Mardi Gras from a local
A brief history of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is a festival with deep tradition. Tracing its oldest roots from European masquerade parties, Mardi Gras has crossed the sea and established itself in Louisiana. The first Mardi Gras of the United States actually took place in Mobile, Alabama, soon afterwards, it migrated a little southwest to the Crescent City, called New Orleans. From that time on, Mardi Gras has evolved and grown to become more widespread and practiced throughout Louisiana.
The festival can trace its roots back to Catholicism and the fasting period known as Lent. Lent is supposed to be period of sacrifice and fasting for practicing Catholics who wish to become more connected to God in the time leading up to Easter Sunday. It was a mixture of this Lenten practice with those of the royal masquerade parties that Mardi Gras developed into what it is today.
Literally translated from French, Mardi Gras means fat Tuesday. The French language is a big part of Louisiana. Particularly Cajun French, which is a dialect of French stemming from Acadian French in Nova Scotia, has been extremely influential in Louisiana’s past. It was the Catholic Cajuns who aptly named the festival. Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is actually the day before Lent begins. Therefore, Mardi Gras was created to be the party before the fast. Effectively, it is just that.
The practice of Mardi Gras differs some by city. The local practices in smaller Louisiana towns like, Mamou, would seem strange to most outsiders. To fully understand it, you have to take into account the original basis for the celebration. Much like Carnival, people were looking for an excuse to party, not be themselves, and let loose before the fasting period of Lent. The original Mardi Gras in Louisiana was a perfect way for the locals to achieve this, then uphold their annual fast after. In Mamou, townsmen mount horses and ride from house to house collecting chickens by horse. After collecting these chickens, they meet in one place to cook gumbo, a Louisiana traditional soup-stew.
Today, Mardi Gras has grown in popularity. From its European roots to the streets of New Orleans, Mardi Gras party-message has spread to other states within America and even to other countries as well. Sydney, Australia, now hosts a large Mardi Gras event every year, all in the name of fun. Other notable Mardi Gras events take place across Europe.
Guide to Mardi Gras
Most small towns in Louisiana have a Mardi Gras of some sort. Obviously, the largest and most famous Mardi Gras is in New Orleans. New Orleans has some of the largest and most famous parades. Annually, famous people from Hollywood, politicians, and even notable entertainers join in on the festivities.
Mardi Gras Breakdown
What are the best places to go for Mardi Gras?
The answer to this question depends entirely on what your interests. If you are interested in a crazy-wild party, then New Orleans Mardi Gras might be your answer. After all, it is the one you’ve heard about all along! However, as an insider, I feel compelled to tell you that there are some other places to enjoy Mardi Gras where you can still pass a good time.
Lafayette is a great place to spend Mardi Gras. Lafayette is a smaller, less-crowded, and some would say ‘safer’ version of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Lafayette is located about 2-2 1/2 hours from New Orleans by car. Lafayette offers a lot as far as parades go without all the people.
Another option would be to attend an authentic Mardi Gras in Mamou, or one of the surrounding towns. Annually, the traditional Mamou Mardi Gras takes place on Fat Tuesday.
Baton Rouge would be another option. It is located between Lafayette and New Orleans, but the Mardi Gras is much smaller. Baton Rouge Mardi Gras is known for its Spanish town parade.
Other small towns like New Iberia, Youngsville, Slidell, and more have their own Mardi Gras celebrations as well. Usually, these are only 1-2 parades that take place on different weekends. So, you’d be able to see a multitude of parades from different places if you wished.
Mardi Gras Explained
Mardi Gras colors
What are the colors of Mardi Gras? The Mardi Gras colors are purple, green, and gold. These colors are symbolically linked to the founding of Mardi Gras. These three colors actually have multiple meanings and represent many things. The purple represents justice, but it also represents the period between Lent and Christmas a link between the two. In addition, purple is representative of the one of the gifts given by the Magi on Jesus’s birth. Green, represents faith, Christmas, and another of the gifts brought by the Magi. Lastly, the gold, represents power, Lent, and the gift of gold as given by the Magi. The number 3 is symbolically linked to the Holy Trinity and the 3 wise men (Magi).
Parades, balls, krewes, and more
Parades are the actual practice of Mardi Gras. This is when a large decorated truck, called a float, drives down the road on a specific route. During a parade, people line the streets and collect colorful beads and goodies thrown by the crew aboard these floats. Parades typically have a theme, which is a basis for the decoration of the floats. The people aboard the floats are called the crew (spelt krewe in this case). These people are part of the societies or clubs, which annually host the parades. For example, you have a Krewe of Bonaparte, Krewe of Gabriel, et cetera. There are many different Krewes in Louisiana.
Balls are annual galas to honor the royalty of the Krewe members. These royalty are usually people who are leaders in the organization or those who are selected to be the year’s royalty. These people often pay a fee in addition to their organization fee to hold the position. during these balls, there is a procession and presentation by the royalty as well as music and entertainment.
There are typically multiple parades the weekends before and week of Mardi Gras. Each city will have its own schedule.
About the King Cake
The Mardi Gras king cake is a very popular item in Louisiana. You can find them in nearly every bakery and grocery stores during the months around Mardi Gras. They have grown substantially in popularity over the years. Now, the king cake is shipped almost world-wide. Read more about the Louisiana king cake here.
So, when is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras 2012 was Tuesday February 21st
Mardi Gras 2013 is Tuesday February 12th
Mardi Gras 2014 is Tuesday March 4th
Mardi Gras 2015 is Tuesday February 17th
*For more personal tips on getting around Louisiana or where to party, don’t hesitate to contact me personally!
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Have you ever been to Mardi Gras, or do you plan to go in the future? If so, what were your highlights or what do you look forward to doing?
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