Every year on Mardi Gras day, New Orleans, Louisiana throws the world’s biggest free party. Most people are unaware that Mardi Gras is so much more than just one day. Mardi Gras is an entire carnival season which starts on January 6th, and ends at the stroke of midnight on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is celebrated in various spots around the United States—but no place does Mardi Gras quite like New Orleans.
The Mardi Gras season features over 100 parades, formal balls, and late night parties. Mardi Gras attendees wear sequins, feathers, and glitter galore. Mardi Gras revelers drink copious amounts of booze, eat sugary king cake, and sing and dance in the streets. The roots of Mardi Gras extend all the way back to medieval Europe. Many villages would host festivals to share all of their excess meat and produce prior to the austere season of Lent, when many faithful Christians would give up one or more worldly pleasures in an attempt to atone for their sins and pay homage to Christ. Mardi Gras took hold in New Orleans thanks to the town’s Catholic roots.
In New Orleans, modern-day Mardi Gras revelers celebrate Mardi Gras with a series of themed parades. The first parade of the season is the Joan of Arc parade on January 6th, which pays homage to one of the most celebrated saints in Catholic history. Other early parades include a science fiction-themed parade called Chewbacchus where marchers dress as Star Wars characters and distribute spaced-themed throws, such as mini lightsabers. There is also a dog-themed parade called Barkus, which features dogs prancing around in costumes alongside their owners—who distribute dog treats and dog toys to the crowd.
As Mardi Gras Day approaches, larger parades start to roll. Organizations called krewes recruit parade riders who don costumes and throw beads, candy, and stuffed animals from atop lavishly decorated floats. One of the most popular parades of the season is the all-female Muses krewe. The ladies of Muses cover shoes in glitter and distribute them along the parade route. Many revelers consider acquiring a sparkling Muses shoe to be one of the grand highlights of the Mardi Gras season.
On the Friday before Mardi Gras day, revelers don costumes and fancy clothes and crowd the French Quarter to spend the day drinking and dining prior to an action-packed weekend of day and night parades. Landmark New Orleans bars and restaurants such as the rotating Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, Galatoire’s Restaurant, and the French 75 Bar are filled to capacity with patrons who are interested in drinking as much as possible.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans has evolved into a grand celebration fueled by pure joy. Mardi Gras is essentially several weeks of enjoying parades, music, booze, and the company of beloved family members and friends. Even if you don’t drink a drop, you can still have the time of your life watching parades, looking at a sea of people wearing brightly-colored costumes, and dancing in the streets.