Mardi Gras: A Primer

For Christmas, my parents bought me Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras in New Orleans: An Illustrated History, which has become the foundation for the research project I'll be doing next year. At the end of the quarter I'll be turning in the manuscript for a similar book of my own! 

My own final product is going to be a collection of photographs and writings I created during my stay in New Orleans during the Carnival season (which will include Mardi Gras day, of course!) I'm going to focus on 10 ways to"laissez les bons temps rouler", as well as 5 individual Krewes that are an important part of the Mardi Gras tradition. At least, that's the plan for now...who knows how it will evolve over the next year!

Even though it's still a year away, I already have a big, huge list of the types of people I want to get in touch with, a stack of books and articles almost as tall as me, and a bunch of events that I really really want to attend.

 I've been getting a head start on things because there's a lot of preperation work I want to do, and I need to find a faculty sponsor for my independent contract AND I'll be studying abroad in Italy the quarter before I leave! Okay, and I really just like to plan ahead and I may have a slight obsession with anything New Orleans related. Maybe.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some thoughts about Mardi Gras with you all. I'm not from New Orleans and I've only experienced Mardi Gras once, so if I have something wrong please don't get too sassy.

The official definition:
Mardi Gras has been around for over 300 years, but the celebrations are still somewhat similar today. Mardi Gras is technically just one day, Fat Tuesday, but it's commonly used to refer to the entire season of Carnival, which New Orleans is known for celebrating.

(Deltas do NOLA! Myself, Kimi and Tiffany on Bourbon St. during our Mardi Gras trip.)

Many people have a picture in their mind that Mardi Gras is about 3 things - beads, boobs, and beer. Fortunately (or I guess unfortunately for some of you), the Carnival season is about so much more. Sure, if you never venture out of the French Quarter, or really just Bourbon St., then you won't really get a taste of what else Mardi Gras day and the Carnival season has to offer (and you'll miss all the parades since they don't travel through the Quarter!). But you will experience lots of BB&B. I think in order to get the most out of Mardi Gras you really need to visit New Orleans with someone that's from the city. They'll be able to get you away from the touristy things so that you can experience something that's really different, and also full of the culture and tradition that the city is famous for.

A taste of the real deal
So much more goes into Mardi Gras than I think a lot of people realize, which is somehting I've been really delving into recently. There are Krewes, which are organizations (some of them are kind of like secret societies!) that put on the parades and hold elegant balls (or tableau ball masques) and they even have their own royalty. Everything is steeped in tradition, which is amazing considering how long the celebration has been going on. The parades create an amazing atmosphere and they're so much fun. All kinds of things are thrown from the floats (that's why they're called throws!) and some of them are especially prized, like the amazingly decorated shoes the ladies from the Muses Krewe toss out every year. There are all kinds of events and groups that come together during the season, and it's definitely a family affair! There's even a Krewe for kids 8-6 called The Little Rascals and they have their very own extravagant ball and parade. No BB&B there, that's for sure! The city comes together for the season, and as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Fat Tuesday the party's over. Until next year, of course.

(From l-r: Me, Kimi, Tiffany, and Colin. Part of our group from school. And of course we ran into a million people we knew over the weekend. Tiff's from New Orleans and she definitely showed us the real experience! )

SO. Have you ever been to Mardi Gras? Have you always wanted to go? Or are you like my dad and totally against the whole thing? I've been to New Orleans a few times, and this past February was my very first Mardi Gras experience. I went with a bunch of friends from school, one of whom is actually from New Orleans, and it was so much fun! When I was 16, I also had the opportunity to attend the Okeanos ball with my best friend and her family. She was on the court, and her father was King that year! That was a really fun time, too. I'll have to put up some pictures!


Anonymous said...

I love NOLA and really want to go to Mardi Gras. I mean the beer and beads are great but the whole history of it is so neat to me. NOLA itself has so much history -- it's such an amazing city!

Natalie said...

I agree! I can't think of anywhere else in the US that has a history as unique and colorful as New Orleans. It really is an amazing place.

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