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

Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded

Chief Slacabamorinico would have been proud.

The Chickasaw leader was “reincarnated” by Mobile resident Joe Cain in 1866 as a rebellion against occupying Union forces.

The Civil War had brought a halt to Mardi Gras celebrations, and in April 1865, Union troops took control of the city.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities resumed unexpectedly the following year when Joseph Stillwell Cain, a local clerk and former member of the Tea Drinkers Mystic Society, led a parade through the occupied city dressed as a fictional Indian named Chief Slackabamarinico.

Cain exuberantly declared an end to Mobile’s suffering and signaled the return of the city’s parading activities, to the delight of local residents. He also succeeded in moving Mobile’s celebration from New Year’s Eve to the traditional Fat Tuesday. 

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During and after Reconstruction, Mardi Gras became the premier event of the city’s social elite and a way of celebrating the “Lost Cause.” New societies representing different portions of the city’s diverse population began to appear. The Order of Myths (OOM), established in 1867, chose as its emblem Folly chasing Death around a broken column, imagery that was seen by many as a symbol of the “Lost Cause.” At the end of the traditional OOM parade, Death is defeated, and Folly wins the day.

In 1870, a group of young men between the ages of 18 and 21 formed the Infant Mystics, probably because they were too young to join other societies. The Knights of Revelry, formed in 1874. Their emblem of Folly dancing in a champagne glass between two crescent moons remains a familiar site during Mardi Gras parades.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile has been doing it ever since and they mark the annual occasion with majestic parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies.

When people think of Mardi Gras, they think of New Orleans. But long before there even was a New Orleans, Mobile was celebrating Mardi Gras in the run-up to Ash Wednesday.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded. The raucous annual celebration originated in the Port City, not in the Crescent City.

Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday and Mobile comes to life. Elaborate themed floats manned by masked mystic societies, mounted police and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Many of the mystic societies hold annual formal balls. Some of the balls are private, open only to members and their families; others sell tickets to guests. Membership rules vary. Members need to be born into some societies; other groups invite residents to join, and still others accept anyone who pays the dues.

A specific decorum regarding gown design for royalty still prevails, according to the late Gordon Tatum Jr., former curator of the Mobile Carnival Museum.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“Cover the ankles,” he said. “It may be split to San Francisco, but cover the ankles.”

The cost for robes, gowns, and scepters, as well as full-out partying, is only governed by how deep Daddy’s pockets are. The museum’s least expensive outfit is estimated at $40,00.

Mobile has decreed that moon pies are the official throwing treat from Mardi Gras floats (too many people were being conked on the head by hard candy).

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry.

Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

The party has started in Downtown Mobile and will end with Fat Tuesday on February 13.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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