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!
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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