It’s time for Carnival in New Orleans! The carnival season officially starts on Epiphany, January 6th also known as Twelfth Night. It’s the season for parades with beautifully decorated floats, King Cake parties and masquerade balls. The carnival krewe “Twelfth Night Revelers” hold a masquerade ball every year to commemorate the day as the official start of the winter social season of Mardis Gras.
People flock to Louisiana for Mardis Gras every year to join the revelers dressing in ornate costumes wearing masks and outfits limited only by their imaginations. The carnival parade season starts three weekends before Mardis Gras Day which is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is also referred to as Fat Tuesday. The major parades go forth every weekend following a route along St. Charles and Canal Street upriver from the French Quarter. The biggest and most elaborate parades occur in the last week of the Mardis Gras season.
“Krewes” are the private social organizations that sponsor the Mardis Gras season and are responsible for the entire expense of the event. They sponsor masquerade balls during the season as well, some are private member only and others are ticketed events. The official Mardis Gras colors are Purple for Justice, Gold for Power and Green for Faith.
The main highlight of Mardis Gras seems to be the parades with beautiful ornate floats. Colored beads, doubloons, coconuts and other trinkets are thrown from the floats to the spectators. The party atmosphere is tangible as is the collection of beads and trinkets become the main purpose of all the revelers who attend the parades.
The season closes with the “Meeting of the Courts” where the King and Queen of the two oldest krewes meet at the close of their respective masquerade balls. It is usually held at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium.
King Cake is part of the Mardis Gras tradition and is available from the first week in January. It is traditionally a coffee cake braided into an oval shape sporting the official colors of Mardis Gras in colored sugar then drizzled with a simple icing. Hidden inside the cake is either a bean or a small baby trinket. The tradition suggests that whoever gets the baby or bean in their piece of cake either has to by the next King Cake or throw the next King Cake Party. Some krewes use the King Cake as a means to select their Mardis Gras Queen.
If you are headed to New Orleans for Mardis Gras there are few things you may need to know:
1) The number one tourist con on the streets is the sale of tickets to Mardis Gras. It is a free street festival that requires NO Ticket. There are viewing stands along St. Charles which require a ticket for seating but that is the only exception.
2) The use of masks by the general public are reserved for Mardis Gras Day only for security reasons.
3) Banks will be closed on Mardis Gras Day so get any money you will need out beforehand.
4) You are encouraged to dress-up on Mardis Gras Day to join in the merry making of the day. It’s as much a part of Mardis Gras as the parties and the cake, indulge and enjoy it. People who join in the fun usually have a more memorable experience.
5) You may be asked to remove your masks upon entering a business establishment. They are usually marked with a sign on the door or window.
6) If you bring children and wish to experience Mardis Gras as a family time together you won’t want to wander onto Bourbon St. in the French Quarter after the parades in the evening. That is where most of the spring break crowd goes to get attention and it is not a suitable place for children.
7) The best spots along the parade route are spoken for early in the day, so you will want to arrive very early to stake out your vantage point.
8) You may want to rent seating on St. Charles so the children can see over the crowds along the parade route. They rent special ladders with seats on top for this purpose.
9) Wear the most comfortable shoes you own because you will be on your feet for longer periods of time than you may realize.
10) The streets are very crowded along the parade routes, sometimes 30 people deep with everyone trying to get the same beads and trinkets. It is very easy for children to get distracted in the grab for the beads and get separated from you, so keep a close eye on them.
11) You may want to set an agreed meeting place in advance in case a child gets separated from you so that they will know where you will look first. Hopefully, saving everyone the stress of separation in a strange place that could quickly become a nightmare from the child’s perspective.
12) Leave the streets by midnight on Tuesday night. Mardis Gras officially ends at the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday. The local police will clear the streets of all remaining revelers promptly at midnight. It is then officially “Ash Wednesday” the beginning of Lent.
If you decide to attend Mardis Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana I hope you have a great time and you found this information useful. I would love to hear about your experience, what you enjoyed and what you didn't like about the city and the celebration. Please leave you’re comments below.