I went to Mardi Gras in college. It was exactly what I expected: loud crowds, lots of flashing for beads, and more drunk people than I’d ever seen in my life. So naturally, I assumed that this was what Mardi Gras was all about, and I’ve stayed away as a result.
On my recent trip to New Orleans, I got educated. If you’re like me, you might need a little light shed on the subject as well. Here’s everything wrong about what you’re thinking about Mardi Gras.
1. Mardi Gras is for Drunk Young People
On an Uber ride, our very talkative driver, Elizabeth, told us that Mardi Gras is for everyone. Sure, the drunk twentysomethings hang out around the French Quarter, but there are ample parades in other neighborhoods that are family-friendly.
She told us about the tradition of turning an ordinary ladder into a seat for kids to view the parades from up high, and how it’s like an 8-hour long tailgate party with food, fun, and yes, beer.
2. Mardi Gras is One Day of Parades
In fact, the hundreds of parades start two weeks before Mardi Gras, which is right before Lent (the 40 days before Easter for those non-Catholic readers). Day or night, there’s something going on for these two weeks. But the day after Mardi Gras? Business as usual, even if you have to go to work with a hangover.
3. Mardi Gras isn’t a Big Deal
Visiting Mardi Gras World, I found out what a big deal it actually is. This place is Ground Zero for parade building for all of the city. The 25-30 designers and artists start the day after Mardi Gras to begin on next year’s floats and props. They also design floats and props for Universal Studio, Euro Disney, casinos, and other places around the world.
The Mardi Gras Indians, a group of African Americans who trot through parades wearing elaborate beaded headdresses, work on their costumes throughout the year as well.
4. Anyone Can Have a Parade
The primary organizations that host parades are called Krewes. There’s the Krewe of Rex, Endymion, Bacchus, and a few others. To be a member of a Krewe, you have to pay dues (thousands of dollars) as well as shell out more money for your own costume and beads to throw. Because some of the floats can cost upwards of $30,000, the Krewe needs the money to cover the costs. But the perks are that you get to sit on a float and bring joy to the masses.
5. New Orleans is the Only Place That Celebrates Mardi Gras
Even within Louisiana, towns have their own Mardi Gras celebrations. In the rural area where my grandmother lives, they have their own version called courir, which involves riding horses and begging for gumbo ingredients, live chickens, and, yep, you guessed it: lots of beer.
They celebrate it in Mississippi and Alabama too (in fact, Mobile was the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the US). But its roots come from France (as well as possibly other areas of Europe). Because the period of Lent was one when people gave up meat and other indulgences for 40 days, they wanted to have a little fun before then. So the parties commenced.
Whether you can make it down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (which falls on February 9 this year, so the parades start in a few weeks!) or not, do plan to visit Mardi Gras World. I was blown away with the gorgeous props sculpted out of styrofoam or molded from fiberglass. It’s a fantastic place to take photos, as you can see! Note: The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau provided me with complimentary tickets to Mardi Gras World.