A Season of Fun:: 20 Things I Learned From Mardi Gras

A Season of Fun:: 20 Things I Learned From Mardi Gras

Ahh, Mardi Gras! It speaks to my soul. As someone raised in South Louisiana, I am here to tell you that Mardi Gras isn’t just drunken debauchery. Of course, that is part of it, but it’s not the whole darn thing. Here are a few things I learned while partaking in Mardi Gras parades for approximately twenty years of my life.

Please Note:: All Mardi Gras parades for 2021 are cancelled due to COVID-19.

1. Mardi Gras is a season of FUN. It starts with King Cakes and Mardi Gras Balls, and goes until the poles are greased outside of the Royal Sonesta and the parades pass down the streets. Of course, there are always after parties, so the fun just doesn’t stop until everyone goes home and the street sweepers come out to clean up all the mess.

2. The happiest people who are having the most fun, give zero Fs. Zero. I have vivid images of middle aged people drinking and dancing in the streets. I recall grown men dressed up in the most ridiculous costumes on Mardi Gras Day. Before the parades, it isn’t uncommon to see members of the NOPD or smaller, local police departments, literally dancing in the streets with the revelers.

3. New Year’s resolutions don’t stand a chance. They literally do not even get a full week. Epiphany or “King’s Day” is on January 6 every year. That marks the start of carnival season, and almost everyone celebrates the occasion by eating a King Cake.

A Season of Fun:: 20 Things I Learned From Mardi Gras
4. Locals don’t “go to Mardi Gras”; we go to parades.
This one used to drive me bonkers. Mardi Gras permeates every facet of life during carnival season; it’s unavoidable. In most cases though, people have a choice whether or not they attend the parades {but New Orleans has been known to have impromptu parades without much warning . . . like on a random November weekend when my middle brother got married.}

5. To get a good parade viewing location requires planning ahead and arriving early. Think of it like attending a music festival; there are people who plan in advance and have sophisticated setups, those who come late and can’t see a thing, and those who weasel their way to the front and annoy everyone in the process. Top Tip:: Ensure a bathroom {or porta potty} is nearby. Also, consider if you want a family-friendly or party atmosphere. Every parade route offers both experiences, so knowing where to go to get what you want is imperative.

6. Everybody and their Momma has a daiquiri. Louisiana is the home of the drive thru daiquiri shop. Yes, we take our alcohol to go, and you fill up big before you head to the parade. New Orleans and a few other nearby towns do not have restrictions against open containers of alcohol in public. The only exception is that the container cannot be made of glass. {Please don’t take my word for it; look up local laws prior to drinking in the streets.} Also, don’t drink and drive. It is too easy these days to call a taxi or book a car via apps like Uber and Lyft.

7. If you know someone riding in a parade, they will hook you up. One of two things will happen when they spot you. They will either call you over and give you their nicest throws, OR they will pelt you with bags of beads and anything they can hurl in your direction. Know what kind of friends you have and prepare accordingly. Also, find out beforehand which float they are on, which side {terms like neutral ground, courthouse, mall, bayouside, etc}, and whether they are on the top or bottom row. For example, they might say “I’m the third person on the bottom, neutral ground side.” “Neutral ground” is the New Orleans term for “median”.

8. Everyone has a very specific favorite King Cake bakery and filling.
I grew up on mostly grocery store King Cakes and the occasional one from the local donut shop. They were never dry, so that is super important to me. The standard cream cheese never disappoints, but I also love a praline filling. Some bakeries are revered for their King Cakes {like Manny Randazzo’s and the newest king in town, Dong Phuong Bake Shop.} If you haven’t already ordered one direct from Nola, it is unlikely you will get one this carnival season. Instead, look to support a local baker here in the Houston area. With so many Cajuns calling Houston home, you are bound to find someone local baking them. I was gifted one recently that was made by Hugs and Confections. I can attest to the quality being similar to what one would expect from a South Louisiana baker. Other local bakers who seem to have a loyal fan base include The King Cake Lady, Montgomery Bakehouse, The Acadian Bakers, Three Brothers Bakery, and Common Bond Bakery {multiple locations}.

9. Mardi Gras isn’t only celebrated in New Orleans. Yes, I am sure you know about Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebration {though I have never been}. And then there’s also Mobile, Alabama. But what I really meant to highlight is that there are many smaller towns in South Louisiana that have quite elaborate Mardi Gras parades and celebrations. I grew up in Houma, Louisiana., and Houma Mardi Gras is as family friendly as it gets! The parades run all weekend for the two weeks preceding Mardi Gras Day, and after the second weekend, they continue to be held on Lundi Gras {Fat Monday} and Mardi Gras {Fat Tuesday}. Unfortunately, all parades are cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

10. Mardi Gras Day is the LAST day of celebrations. Don’t show up to the party just as it is ending. In most cities and towns across South Louisiana, the best parades are held the weekend prior to Mardi Gras Day.

11. Marching in a Mardi Gras parade takes a lot of preparation and stamina. I know; I marched in dozens while in high school. The parade routes go on for miles, and as a dancer, we had to smile, perform dance routines, march properly, and stay in formation {à la Beyonce} the entire time. I cannot imagine what it is like for the band members who play and therefore carry large instruments. Cheer them on or dance to the music they play next time you go to a parade; it helps!

12. The coolest person in the parade is rarely on a float. From the time I was a little girl until even now, I love watching drum majors and dance teams get down. There is no better place to see this than in New Orleans. There is such a variety of musicians in each parade, including military bands, local high school bands, university marching bands, and typically social pleasure bands. One year, I was even lucky enough to meet famous jazz clarinetist, Pete Fountain, as he marched on Mardi Gras Day with his Half-Fast Walking Club of musicians. {Say that club name fast, and you’ll discover Mr. Fountain’s original name for his crew.}

13. Mardi Gras floats are works of art.
The biggest name in float design in New Orleans has always been Blaine Kern. In 1987, Mardi Gras World opened to showcase his family’s creations. It is open daily, excluding major holidays and Mardi Gras Day, for tours. For 2021, they are moving more than 40 floats to New Orleans City Park to create “Floats in the Oaks,” a drive thru Mardi Gras celebration that will run from February 4-14. Tickets are required.

14. Nobody wants the cheap beads. What do we want? Well, for starters, a Zulu coconut and a Muses shoe. Second to those, the big beads. Other high-ranking throws include souvenir beads, Mardi Gras undies, footballs, giant stuffed animals, souvenir cups, etc. Every household in South Louisiana has a massive supply of plastic cups that were caught at Mardi Gras parades. Bring bags or a backpack to hold your throws. Also, every single person from South Louisiana is thoroughly perplexed when we see or attend parades at which nothing is being thrown to the onlookers.

15. The ground has no germs. The only reason to abandon a throw that lands on the ground is if it is in urine or horse manure. But like, wear closed toe shoes to avoid urine, horse manure, and getting your feet stomped on continuously. {Many of the police officers patrolling during Mardi Gras parades ride on horseback. As a result, the streets often end up full of land mines.}

16. Mardi Gras has its own soundtrack. I grew up singing and dancing to “Mardi Gras Mambo,” “Big Chief,” “Iko Iko,” “The Second Line,” and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” among many other songs. It was only when I moved to Texas that I realized that these songs were unique to my childhood, and I got a little sad realizing others didn’t grow up with them. Even now, they evoke the best memories, and I can’t help but smile and dance upon hearing them.

17. Ignore the people shouting and shaming. Without fail, there is a man with a microphone and a sign telling you that you are going to hell for being at a Mardi Gras parade. Y’all, carnival is celebrated in the heaviest Catholic regions in the world. You party and then repent on Ash Wednesday. Life is too short; have the fun! What is the saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. . .”

18. Do not go alone. Listen, I have not ever had a bad experience at a parade. However, there is safety in numbers. Plus, it’s just a lot more fun with friends. With the party atmosphere in high gear, it is easy to let your guard down. It is so necessary to always be aware of your surroundings though. I learned this from the age of seven. We would walk down dark streets back to the car park as a family, but I remember my Spidey sense being kicked up a notch the whole way there.

19. Being tall is a blessing. The only thing more advantageous is being lifted onto someone else’s shoulders or having someone in your life kind enough to make and bring you a parade ladder {these are only really acceptable for children}. In smaller towns, people have flatbed trailers fitted out with plywood and decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors. Alternatively, they just back their truck up toward the road and all climb in the back.

20. Purple, green, and gold are the colors of royalty. They’re also the official colors of Mardi Gras. Purple symbolizes justice, green is for faith, and gold signifies power. And they look beautiful together. Get a purple, green, and gold striped shirt or some accessories, and head to the parades in 2022.

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Christy G
Christy grew up in Cajun Country. After graduating from LSU, she worked as an editor for a Louisiana chef. After Hurricane Katrina devastated her home state, she assisted in the recovery efforts, which ultimately moved her to Houston. Christy and Ryan were married in St. Lucia in 2006. Five years later, after welcoming their first child, Lilla {March 2011}, she became a high school English and Photojournalism teacher. After Flynn {March 2013} joined their family, Christy became a stay-at-home mom. Soon after, the family jumped at the chance to move to Perth, Western Australia. After almost four years, they relocated to Santiago, Chile. Both places {and their wines} hold a special place in her heart. Christy enjoys cheering on her beloved LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints, texting friends in complete sentences, taking heaps of photos, planning vacations, advocating for our planet, and cooking delicious meals in her kitchen.


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