5 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras In New Orleans
I, like many, was once on the outside. An occasional tourist to New Orleans walking the obligatory stretch of Bourbon Street over a long weekend. My only knowledge of Mardi Gras was what I saw on television reruns of Cops where masses of people gathered in the French Quarter to "earn" their beads from the balconies above. As much as I loved the city I never had a desire to attend during Mardi Gras but when I moved to New Orleans in 2011 it was inevitable.
I should have clued in a bit when the people who always suggested I come during Mardi Gras were people who were from New Orleans. Or the fact that in those cops episodes I never once saw a float. I am celebrating my 8th Mardi Gras this year in New Orleans and wouldn't miss it for the world because as it turns out, Mardi Gras is something totally different than what I once believed. So here are some less known facts that might surprise the outsiders:
Mardi Gras Does Not Take Place in the French Quarter
There are a few small parades that run in the weeks before that are mostly walking "krewes" that draw very small crowds compared to Mardi Gras weekend. The reason you don't see floats on Bourbon Street is that there is no way these floats would even fit! Some are as long as a football field and two stories tall and average about 10 tons in weight. Most parades run from uptown New Orleans down St Charles and end on Canal Street near the Mississippi River.
Kids Love Mardi Gras
Some would even say Mardi Gras is ALL about the kids. During parade season the routes are lined with "Ladder Seats" that parents roll to the parade and setup so that the little ones have a height advantage and a safe place to catch throws. Many of these ladders are family heirlooms and part of the tradition. There are hundreds of school bands that are part of the parades and the honor of marching in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans is one taken very seriously. The high school bands with the best reputations start training and practice in the summer prior to Mardi Gras. It is the bands between the floats that keep everyone in the spirit!
What About The Beads?
Most of the parades have themes and prized throws to go with them. For instance, Nyx throws decorated purses and Muses is famous for the decorated high heels. At the end of the night, grown ups are on each other's porches showing off their prized throws that become a household piece of art! My very first Mardi Gras parade was a Saturday parade in Mid City New Orleans called Endymion. That day was very cold and rainy and the parade start kept getting pushed back due to weather. Some of my family was visiting and we were at a party near the start of the route with mostly locals. I made a suggestion, "The weather is so nice tomorrow through Tuesday let's just skip this parade and go tomorrow." I'm pretty sure a record scratched, mouths dropped, and I'm surprised I wasn't escorted to the door! Before I knew it I was standing on the route and could see the bright lights leading the parade and the most amazing sight of hundreds of beads and more flying from the floats. For the next two hours I was a kid again. I quickly learned that beads are at the bottom of the totem pole and set my sights on bigger throws like stuffed animals, collectors cups, blinking swords, and anything else I could get my hands on. I am fortunate enough to live near the start of many parades now and each night I would walk down thinking, "I will just stand at the back and watch tonight. I have enough Mardi Gras throws already." The next thing I know I am making eye contact with a rider with something I want and the rest is history. There is an energy about a parade that escapes no one!
Mardi Gras Is A Local Holiday
Although Mardi Gras is happily celebrated with visitors, it is truly a local holiday for the people of Greater New Orleans. Banks and all businesses are closed. Most schools are out all week. The houses in the neighborhoods are as decorated in Yellow, Purple, and Green wreaths as they were in red and green at Christmas. As you pass people in the street you greet each other with "Happy Mardi Gras" and everyone is in some sort of costume. The local news stations air the parades live all morning and then the French Quarter celebrations all afternoon and we watch it like you would the Macy's Day parade.
So with that being said, it is time for us here in New Orleans to costume up one last time and head out on this glorious day to celebrate each other and the greatest city in the world!
Happy Mardi Gras Y'all!
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