10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people, it means different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, a piece of history, a state holiday, or a million parades, and countless memories. Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state and beyond has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

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What is Mardi Gras? Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or where to get one-of-a-kind beads? Here are 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnival the best!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carnival is a Season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and ushers in 40 days of best behavior during Lent, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany.

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Mardi Gras 2022 falls on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The official start of Carnival Season is Twelfth Night, January 6.

A krewe (pronounced the same way as “crew”) is an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season.

Bonus Fun Fact: Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been since 1875 when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your Dog Will Love Mardi Gras

Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore, and more locations! These animal-dedicated parades show off the fun and revelry from our furriest of friends and do they look cute.

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New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes.

Related Article: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Start planning your dog’s costume for the celebration.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mardi Gras Is for Families

There are many activities and Mardi Gras parades that are family-friendly. In New Orleans, there are a few favorite family parade-watching spots which include St. Charles and Napoleon Streets. As you explore the state, you’ll find that many Louisiana cities host huge Mardi Gras celebrations with brightly colored floats and marching bands that are perfectly appropriate for the whole family.

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte.

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4. The Best Ways to Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious

Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

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5. You never know what they’ll Throw

Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders including the King’s Throne (a giant toilet) float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more.

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In Shreveport, you’ll love the Krewe of Highland who throw a new surprise each Carnival season. The first of Krewe’s famously unusual throws began with candy canes in its founding year. Over the years, throws have included recycled beads, rubber chickens, Beanie Babies, and food, from spaghetti and meatballs in Ziploc bags to pickles, hot dogs, Capri Suns pouches, Ramen Noodles, MoonPies, and even coined money. The throws are as exciting as the floats from which they’re thrown; every year brings a new surprise to parade go-ers, screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!”

Anyone can come home with beads. Only those “in the know” get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily the Biggest

You can’t get any smaller than ’tit Rex, New Orleans first and only MicroKrewe. A group of artists, business people, teachers, workers, and bon vivants founded ‘tit Rəx in 2009 in a response to the super krewes constantly setting records for floats, throws, and extravagance.

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‘tit Rəx takes an opposite approach focusing instead of on massive floats that take up entire blocks, the ‘tit Rəx floats are made from shoeboxes and found objects that look like full-size floats. Carnival throws are handed out by krewe members rather than tossed, since—in keeping with the theme of the parade—they are so tiny.

Related Article: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used as a prefix before the name of the smaller or younger of two people who share a first name.

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7. Why They Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a man dressed as Santa Claus received such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing as, before that, krewes threw any manner of items including food and dirt. Today, krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands which are rare and seemed to have phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

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8. The Weight of Revelry

Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats. In fact, locals like to visit the Arc of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year. It is a 67-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the independence and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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9. Royalty is Often Top Secret

Ever see the term “Mystic Krewe” and wonder what that means? Many Mardi Gras Krewes use “mystique” or “mystic” in their titles, meaning krewes will not reveal the identities of their royalty until they’re presented at the royal ball. King, Queens, and Maids are often sworn to secrecy all year until they’re able to make their grand debut.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Mardi Gras is More Than New Orleans

When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you only think of New Orleans? Think again. Mardi Gras is celebrated around the state! Cajun Mardi Gras (yes, there is a Cajun spin on Mardi Gras) can be found in the Lafayette and Eunice area. In Baton Rouge, parades roll many weekends before and during Mardi Gras. Plan to experience some family-friendly Mardi Gras fun in Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, and many other locations throughout the state.

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Be sure to explore the small cities and towns of South Louisiana such as Houma and Thibodaux as every region has its own way of celebrating the carnival season.

Related Article: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

And don’t forget where it all began in America. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras, 15 years before New Orleans was established.

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Now that you are well versed in Carnival knowledge, it’s time to plan your trip to visit the Bayou State and “let the good times roll.”

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

How to Celebrate Safely

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous weather-predicting groundhog, saw his shadow. But doesn’t that just mean it’s sunny? We’re not about to start taking advice from a groundhog because we know spring camping is just around the corner. And we know there’s still a whole lot of February to get through and though the cheap flights to warmer weather are nonexistent and the Mardi Gras beads will just be thrown onto unsuspecting pets nearby.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras typically means dancing in the streets, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, and watching one parade after another roll as you slowly become a human bead tree. But Mardi Gras looks a lot different this year. Parades won’t roll. Gone are the parties, concerts, and events that usually make up this festive time of year (and put you in very close contact with your fellow humankind). There will be no large crowds. But that doesn’t mean Mardi Gras is cancelled.

Mobile, home of the first Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and wait for spring. We’ve rounded up some socially-distant ways to celebrate Carnival season. Sample all the goodies at the King Cake hub, dress your pet in Mardi Gras colors, attend a virtual event, or peruse the elaborate house floats. And while you’re out, don’t forget to order a king cake for me.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How You Can Still Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021

Short answer: very carefully.

But wait, when exactly is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras takes place on Tuesday, February 16 this year. The date changes each year but here’s a rule of thumb: Easter always takes place on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and Mardi Gras happens 41 days before Easter. It can be as early as February 3 or as late as March 9 depending on when Easter falls. Simple, right? Ha, just kidding!

The lunar calendar and its interactions with the ecclesiastical calendar are complex, to say the least, so all you really need to remember is that Mardi Gras takes place on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off 40 days of pious self-denial among Louisiana’s historically Catholic population.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check Out the House Floats

What are locals doing with the creative energy they’d normally use to learn parade route dance routines, throw bals masqués (masked ball), and make custom throws? They’re decorating objects whose size is comparable with that talent—houses. Krewe of House Floats founder Megan Boudreaux sparked the idea in November. “When the mayor announced parade cancellations, I made an offhand comment on Twitter that I’ll decorate my house and throw things at my neighbors,” Boudreaux said. “Everyone has 200 pounds of beads in their attic.”

Mardi Gras King Cakes at Ambrosia Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concept took over social media. Now, Boudreaux’s Krewe of House floats boasts more than 3,000 members and 1,000 house floats worldwide. Walk around (while distancing and wearing a mask!) and admire the artistry of unemployed float artists. You could probably also catch a few house floats during GetUpNRide’s socially distant group bike ride which takes place on Mardi Gras day.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat a King Cake

In a state of culinary delights, king cake is…well, king. Baked from cinnamon-laced dough with a small plastic baby inside, the ring-shaped cake is both a delicacy and a tradition. Whoever gets the slice with the baby inside is responsible for buying the next king cake which means eating a lot of sugar during Carnival time. But all good things must come to an end. Most bakeries don’t sell king cakes before January 6 or after Fat Tuesday. Bakeries including Gambino’s, Haydel’s, and Ambrosia will ship king cakes anywhere in the country.

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dress Yourself, Your Pet, and your RV in Mardi Gras Colors

It’s a great way to show your support for Carnival during its most challenging year. If you don’t already know what the colors are just look at the sugar topping traditional king cakes and you’ll see the hallowed Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and gold. Purple symbolizes justice, gold symbolizes power, and green symbolizes faith, as designated by the 1892 Rex parade.

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the founding of the Rex Organization in 1872 its traditions have helped define Mardi Gras. Rex’s Proclamation invites his subjects to the grand celebration of Carnival. His royal colors of purple, green, and gold are to this day the colors of Mardi Gras and the song played in the first Rex parade, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” has become Carnival’s anthem. Rex and his Queen preside over the Rex Ball, Carnival’s glittering conclusion.

Mardi Gras costume display© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or Make a More Elaborate Costume

Costumes are one of the cornerstones of Carnival and staying home to craft yours is one of the safest things you can do during COVID-19 times. After it’s reached its full potential (or your fingers are hopelessly singed, whichever comes first), put it on and post a selfie. Don your mask, check out house floats, and toast yourself on the day we say farewell to the flesh. You’ve made it this far in a yearlong pandemic that has taken away so many of our traditions and comforts—and you’re part of an unprecedented moment in Madi Gras history. 

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Attend” a Virtual Event

If you aren’t live-streamed out yet, there are plenty of Carnival events to watch in between Zoom meetings. Enjoy Mardi Gras festivities from the comfort and safety of your home with a virtual cooking class from New Orleans School of Cooking. Zoom cooking classes include savory andouille king cake. Krewe of Bacchus launched “Throw Me Something, Bacchus,” a virtual parade app that features throws, floats, throw trading features, and games.

Mardi Gras at Ambrosia Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In response, the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave, New Orleans’ first virtual krewe (which launched in 2016), will drive down Bacchus’ Uptown parade route. Nola.com will live stream “Mardi Gras for All Y’all”. The virtual event’s more than 90 acts feature chef demonstrations, live performances, interviews, and lots of house floats. Live Streaming platform StageIt will broadcast New Orleans bands including The Iceman Special, Soul Brass Band, Dinola + Malevitus, and The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars.

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass -wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim