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Mardi Gras: The Wildest Show on Earth

Posted by Luke Bowen on

colorful mask for a maquerade

New Orleans’s Mardi Gras is indeed a parade like no other! Witness dozens and dozens of fully decorated floats bearing krewe nobility in their full finery, scores of famous celebrities in out-of this-world attires, masked revelers march in time with hosts of colorful uniformed bands and daring riders on horseback. Accompanying them are thousands of dancing party-goers in their scintillating and vibrant costumes. The show dazzles of beads in different types, sizes and hues; twinkling Spanish gold coins and other valuable trinkets. Millions of merry makers are making New Orleans’s Mardi Gras as the greatest show on Earth.

The Origin

On March 2, 1699, Officers Iberville and Bienville together with their men spearheaded the first recorded celebration of the holiday in Louisiana. It was part of a Catholic practice. Thereafter, the holiday of Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.  On the last five days of the Mardi Gras season, people await the most elaborate parade of the season.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras was related to the practices of eating rich and fatty foods before fasting and fulfilling religious obligations in connection of the penitential season of Lent. Considered as the wildest festival in the U.S., during this event thousands of fun-loving Americans flock to New Orleans to take in the floats, the festivities, the food, and to experience the city.

5 popular Mardi Gras traditions

  • Masks are worn

masquerade masks

Masks are an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. Wearing mask in the Mardi Gras brings excitement to the next level. A statement from the Business Time International rationalizes mask wearing. They said that people abandon social constraint by donning a mask. There are great assortments of masks:  eye masks of satin, masks with colorful feathers, glittering masks filled with sequins, as well as paper mache Venetian style masks.

  • Traditional flambeaux

Flambeaux or flame-torch are traditional parade lights. Shredded rope soaked in pitch was originally carried by slaves all over the streets providing nighttime revelers light to enjoy festivities during the night. Today these torchbearers have acquired the honor of being a world-class example of performance art. Whether lighter, butane or kerosene is used in the torch; the crowd loved the entertaining making of the flambeaux, an anticipated part of the Carnival.

  • Beads throwing

large glowing mardi gras necklace

Throwing beads and other items are parade traditions. The color of the beads was determined by the king of the Carnival. He wanted the colors of royalty – gold for power; green for faith; and purple for justice. The concept was to toss the colored bead necklaces to the spectator exhibiting the meaning of the color. Originally made of glass, it was later changed to avoid things breakable and harmful.

  • Carnival King

Every year in New Orleans, a king was crowned. His name, or title, is Rex; who first ascended to the throne in 1872. History identified the very first Rex as Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. Upon his arrival in the U.S., he became friends with George Armstrong Custer, a U.S. Army officer. They planned hunting expedition in the Midwest. He was able to visit Louisiana and was given the honor as Mardi Gras king. Annually, Rex Organization selects a new King, typically well-known person.

  • Zulu coconuts

During the parade, another old practice was to hand out Zulu’s coconuts or “golden nuggets” to the crowd by the Social Aid and Pleasure Club of Zulu. The earliest reference to this tradition was in 1910. The first doled out were left in their original hairy state, but years later, coconuts were painted and decorated by the members.

Six Spectacles of Mardi Gras

  • Parade "Krewes”

The "Krewes" of Mardi Gras are the organizations responsible in staging the parades. The "Old line Krewes” organized their own type of parade.

As traditionalists, they put up tableau balls and elect a king and queen from within themselves. The oldest of these parades and dates was held back in 1872. Parades are always loaded with confetti, dancers, music and beaded necklaces. The streets blare of music and the cheering and dancing crowds call for the parade to kick-off. The parade has extraordinary floats, stilt walkers topping over the crowd, cars with candy stripes, skilled performers, and sexy samba dancers.

  • Floats

In Mardi Gras history, floats played a major role. Floats give life and culture to the parade. Floats are of different designs and materials: some are intricate; others awaken your sense of humor and common sense.  Krewe chose a theme for the year so they are created to reflect those themes. Some floats are several times the size of the average floats.

  • Masquerades

Masquerade balls were a formal and private affair for the Krewe. Sometimes, debutantes are formally introduced to the society. Women wore ball gowns and hope to be issued a "call-out" card. A debutante with a “call out” card is seated in a select area and will have one dance by krewe member who sent the card. Masquerades are nights for lovers to dine and dance in their formal attire. They can lose all inhibitions as they wear fantastically-designed masks to hide their identity.

  • Throw to parade-goers

Popular in Mardi Gras are the “throws”.  Krewe members on floats throw these items to parade-goers as the floats passed by! Items include doubloons or old Spanish coins, glass or plastic beads, mugs, trinkets, and small toys. Throwing is a time-honored tradition expected by both young and old alike. In 1884, Rex started using medallions or doubloons instead of trinkets. Doubloons are aluminum and anodized in many different colors. They have now become collectors’ items.

  • Nightlife

Nightlife in New Orleans, like other metropolis big cities, is beyond measure as offerings are abundant. Every corner is a welcome haven. Enter an upscale restaurant or spend time drinking in a lounge.  Spend some time in a piano bar and the pianist will gladly play your favorite ditty. There are lots of spots offering great Jazz & Blues sounds in and out of the French Quarter.

  • Carnival Atmosphere

Mardi Gras exudes a carnival-like atmosphere. There is the spectacle of people in colorful dresses and masks appreciating the dancing and participating in the parade. The bands continue playing all night, adding to the revelry and excitement. Food, colorful balloons and all kinds of souvenirs for loved are everywhere.

Mardi Gras is a fun and wild tradition. Costumes, lively music, extravagant parades, colorful floats add to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Make this event one of your big annual holidays, even if you’re not in New Orleans.

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