Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world.
As is the case with many Carnivals, the New Orleans Carnival season has its roots in preparing for the start of the Christian season of Lent. In New Orleans the season consists of parades, balls and king cake parties. The festivities are concentrated for about two weeks before and through Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), the day before Ash Wednesday. There is usually a major parade each day with many days having several large parades.
Carnival parades in New Orleans are prepared by Carnival krewes. The organizers on the krewe floats toss strings of plastic colorful beads, coins, decorated plastic cups, and small toys and trinkets. The krewes follow the same parade schedule and route every year.
While many tourists center their Mardi Gras season activities on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, none of the major Mardi Gras parades has entered the Quarter since 1972 because of its narrow streets and overhead obstructions. Instead, major parades originate in the Uptown and Mid-City districts and follow a route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, on the upriver side of the French Quarter.
On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mistick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus Krewe started a number of traditions like the use of floats in Carnival parades. They are considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. In 1875 Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday.
Nowadays most of the krewes operate under a business structure where membership is basically open to anyone who pays dues, and any member can have a place on a parade float. In days past, the krewes were social groups that adhered to class and economic exclusive groups.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused people to wonder about the fate of the city’s Mardi Gras traditions. The city was bankrupt after the storm, but they pushed for a scaled back celebration. Still, some of the krewes insisted that they wanted to parade, so although many of the floats had been submerged in the flood some krewes repaired all traces of the flood effects while, others found ways to incorporate the flood damage into their float designs. Although the majority of the locals krewe members were affected by the storm their enthusiasm for Carnival was even more passionate as a pronouncement of continued existence and survival.
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple to represent justice, gold to represent power and green to represent faith. The colors date back
to 1872 and were selected by the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch Romanoff of Russia while visiting New Orleans. In 1892, the Rex Parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” assigned the colors their meanings.
The population of New Orleans almost triples with tourists for Mardi Gras. Monday is known as “Lundi Gras” (“Fat Monday”). Celebrations begin early on Mardi Gras Day (“Fat Tuesday”). Mardi Gras formally ends with the arrival of “the Meeting of the Courts”, a term describing the ceremony at which Rex and His Royal Consort, the King and Queen of Carnival, meet with the King and Queen of the Mistick Krewe of Comus, New Orleans’ oldest active Carnival organizations.
Ash Wednesday is jokingly referred to as “Trash Wednesday” because of the amount of garbage left in the streets by the two day’s celebrations. Tons of garbage picked up by the city sanitation department is usually a local news item.
For more information and dates for Mardi Gras in New Orleans check here.