Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mardi Gras Parades Across Louisiana.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Mardi Gras isn’t just an extra paid holiday in Louisiana (oh yes, you heard me right.  PAID HOLIDAY—and not just for government jobs.  Man, I miss that…)—it’s a season.  Mardi Gras parades and preparations start weeks before Fat Tuesday comes ambling across the calendar (falling on Februrary 21 this year).  The New Orleans Metro area (NOLA, Metairie, Slidell, Mandeville, Westbank, Covington, etc.) hosts over 50 parades in the three weeks prior to Mardi Gras Day, and on Mardi Gras Day, another 7 parades will roll in the Uptown/French Quarter and Metairie districts, for a grand total of 60 parades. 

And this isn’t even getting into the OTHER parades held across the state.  The Terrebonne Parish seat of Houma, about 45 minutes northwest of NOLA (where I lived for a spell), hosts the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state with another 16 parades scattered across the two week period before Mardi Gras.  Drive further up Highway 90 & you land in the great city of Lafayette,  which hosts 10 parades in the days leading up to Mardi Gras and gives NOLA a run for her money with another 7 parades on Mardi Gras Day across the area. 

The Capital city of Baton Rouge is no slouch either, starting their festivities earlier than all the rest with a dog parade (aptly named “The Mystic Krewe of Mutts”) January 29th this year and hosting a total of 15 parades throughout February.

Having lived in New Orleans, Thibodaux, Houma, and Lafayette, with 5 Mardi Gras (2005-2009) under my belt, I consider myself something of a Mardi Gras veteran.  I know where the good parking is, where the least crowded spots to watch are, where my friends will be watching from, and have managed to collect a fair assortment of “good” beads—without ever raising my shirt, thank-you-very-much.  But my husband has only been to NOLA once, and it was during Spring Break.  So this was his first “Mardi Gras”. (As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m not much of a fan of how touristy & crowded the city gets during “actual” Mardi Gras, so we opted to visit Louisiana the weekend before the onslaught of bead-bedecked sightseers arrived.)

As such, I wanted to make sure he got a well-rounded exposure.  So we watched two parades in New Orleans (one day parade, and one evening parade) and then we actually rode in one of the Lafayette area parades!

The day parade was “Krewe of Pontchartrain”, which rolled in the Uptown area & then ended on Canal Street in the Quarter.  These floats might be considered “extravagant” in comparison to your average everyday local parade:

IMG_20120211_150558 (The U.S. Navy recruiting office float—designed to look like a ship)

But down here, they’re nothing compared to the amazing craftsmanship of the night parade floats.  For an evening parade, we moseyed over to Metairie to catch the Krewe of Caesar:


(Caesar’s signature float, the Hydra…yes, those heads move.)

The following day, we rode in the Scott Mardi Gras parade (a suburb town of Lafayette).  This is what is usually referred to as a “truck parade”, where the floats are less elaborate & usually consist of a decorated trailer (sometimes double-decker) or converted school bus.

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Floats are often sponsored by a business or existing organization (my best friend & her husband own a karate school, so we were representing their school and had coupons for free trial lessons attached to the beads we threw).


7640b 003 (Waiting for the parade to start—my friends on the left, & my husband & I on the right.)


If you’ve never had the experience of riding in a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana, and someone gives you the opportunity, whether it’s in New Orleans or elsewhere—DO IT.  If you thought going to a Mardi Gras parade was something---just try being on the other end of it.   In the middle of it.  Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people screaming “THROW ME SUMTHIN MISTER!” (Would a “PLEASE” kill you?  Sheesh.)

7640b 020(The view from the float as we got started down the route.  That’s a giant inflatable karate kicker at the head of our float, for the record.)

It’s hard to believe people go so crazy for cheap plastic beads made in China, but they do.  At one point I looked at my husband & said, “this must be what it feels like to be a missionary arriving in a desert community when you’re hauling food & bottled water”.


Despite what you may have heard, in New Orleans and the surrounding cities (essentially anywhere outside of the French Quarter), Mardi Gras season is for the kids.  Sure, it’s a fun excuse to get together with friends & family & raise your hands for some shiny plastic trinkets, but if you’re 10 & under, Mardi Gras is all about YOU.  (The Grand Marshalls for the Krewe of Caesar parade this year were Elmo & Cookie Monster, to hammer home my point.)

imageJust smile real big, wave your hands around, and if your REALLY little, maybe have an adult hoist you up on their shoulders, or have your parents build one of those sweet ladder stands:


You, my dear sweet kid, will get teddy bears, stuffed animals, balls, Frisbees, Moon Pies, light up necklaces, candy, and beads, beads, beads.



As an adult, MY personal favorite throws are cups & doubloons.  These items are usually stamped with the theme/logo for the parade, the year, and the name of the parade.  I could pretty well care less about beads anymore unless they’re out-of-the-ordinary.  I like cups because, well, unlike beads, they can actually serve a purpose AFTER the parade, and doubloons because they’re an easy small token to remember what parades you’ve been to.

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(A portion of my person collection of doubloons & cups—the cup collection got whittled down a lot when I got married.  We just had WAY too many cups.)


Q & A Session:

My husband, being new the the Carnival scene, had a number of questions.  And given that some of you readers might be equally green, I’ve decided to share them here:

Q: What is a “Krewe"?

A: A Krewe is a group that organizes a Mardi Gras parade.  In the past, membership into a krewe was hereditary, passed down through generations.  Now, many krewes allow year-round application to join.  In order for a group to call themselves a Krewe, they must: (a) holds a parade which, (b) utilizes floats and/or bands, (c) have the celebration of Carnival as its main purpose, and (d) hold a ball. 


Q: What’s the difference between a “krewe” and a “mystic krewe”?

A:  Mystic krewes are made up entirely by members of a particularly “mystic society club”.  Membership to these clubs are typically secret.  Mystic krewe members must wear masks while riding in the parade to shield their identity from the public.  Some non-mystic Krewes still wear masks, but it’s not necessarily a requirement.


Q: What’s with all the beads on the ground?  Why isn’t anyone picking them up?

A: One of the (albeit slightly silly) “rules” of Mardi Gras is to not pick up anything off the ground that isn’t a doubloon.  I’m sure part of this is out of cleanliless—I mean, do you know where that street’s BEEN???   But mainly it’s to avoid getting trampled.  If you bend over at a parade & it’s crowded, you could get bumped & lose your balance & topple forward into other parade goers or get stepped on yourself.  Just let it go—there will be plenty more to come.  (But if you’re in an uncrowded area and the trample-risk is really low, go ahead & go for it, I say. I’ve broken this rule many a time because hey, I’m klutzy & can’t catch worth a crap. )

When it comes to doubloons, be careful not to get trampled.  Many people will scramble for doubloons and it’s an easy way to get hurt (sometimes mob mentality kicks in, especially after a few cocktails).  Rule of thumb is when you see one land, stomp on it & then wait for the crowd to clear—then squat down & pick it up.

Q: What’s with the funny outfits?

A: Mardi Gras is seen as an “anything goes” holiday. Pre-dating the Mardi Gras parades, peasants would dress up in ridiculous outfits, usually imitating their “superiors” (royalty, clergy, etc.)  In Cajun country, the more traditional Mardi Gras reveler costume is a ghilly suit in flamboyant colors, made with strips of fabric attached to pants & a long sleeve top, with cone-shaped hats or clergy-style cabochon headwear.

7640b 013 (Our new friend, Mr. Chris, one of the members of Renaissance Cadienne, a traditional Cajun folk dance troupe, and one of the original members of Silver Dollar City’s Cajun Connection)

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