LOUISIANA

Mardi Gras Time in the South

Mardi Gras

Typically when many people hear the phrase, whether in passing or more detailed conversation, it immediately conjures up, well, um, interesting imagines; or for some, even more interesting memories.

However, this special celebration really isn't about throwing caution to the wind and getting wild, but more about immersing yourself, even for a day or weekend, into the experience.

From Port Arthur, Texas to Pensacola, Fla. and all points in between, let the spirit of Mardi Gras capture you with its customs, costumes, parades and overall revelry.

 

Laissez les bon temps roullez!

Texas

  • From parades to a carnival, it's a festive Mardi Gras in Port Arthur. Running under the theme, A Family Affair, the weekend kicks off on Thursday, March 3, with the Courir du Mardi Gras parade beginning at 4:45 p.m.

  • Celebrating its 100th year, Mardi Gras! Galveston isn't like no other Mardi Gras celebration, according to Leah Boyd, public relations manager with Galveston Island CVB.

    “The event really showcases what Galveston Island offers, from the creativity found in lavish parades to our Gulf Coast cuisine.”

    And in true Texas fashion, Mardi Gras! Galveston is the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state.

    This year, the festivities have grown to include 26 concerts, 18 parades, 13 balcony parties and five masked balls.

    If you want to catch some of the celebration, you're in luck. There are a number of events scheduled for this weekend. For instance, there's the Krewe Babalu 6th annual “All Krewe Parade” at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 4. On Saturday, March 5, events include the Z Krewe 17th Z Processional from 1 - 2 p.m., and the Knights of Momus Grand Parade at 6:30 - 9:30 p.m. Happening on Sunday, March 6 is the Krewe of Barkus & Meoux Parade, 1 - 2:30 p.m., and the Mardi Gras Children's Parade from 1 - 2:30 p.m.

    Of course don't forget the last of the parades on Tuesday, March 8, Fat Tuesday. Also, on-going is the Seawall Carnival, complete with midway rides.

 

Louisiana

  • “It's spectacular and special to see,” comments Katie Harrington, public relations manager, Lake Charles/SW Louisiana CVB.

    “The celebration features all of the fun events related to Mardi Gras, but at a family-friendly level. Not only is it family-friendly, but affordable as well.”

    Many of the events are free or nearly free, with admission starting as low as $5. In addition, she points out that some are unique to the area as well.

    “On Monday, March 7, which is Lundi Gras, there's the Royal Gala that features all 50 krewes with their entire court all dressed in their royal apparel. This is opened to the public and is only six dollars to attend.”

    Other events include Mardi Gras Music Fest, happening through Tuesday, March 8. There's a Mardi Gras Zydeco Dance scheduled for Saturday, March 5, from 3  -  5 p.m., and Krewe of Barkus Parade on the same day, starting at 3 p.m. Of course, you don't want to miss the World Famous Cajun Extravaganza & Gumbo Cook-Off, on Saturday from  8 a .m. -  2 p.m., admission $5.  If that's not enough, there's the Taste de la Louisiane on Sunday, March 6 starting at 11 a.m., admission $6.

  • Celebrate Mardi Gras in Lafayette, the heart of Cajun Country, at Le Festival de MardiGras a Lafayette. Through March 8, you can enjoy everything from midway rides, Cajun food, live entertainment and much more. And you can't forget the parades.  On Saturday, March 5, there's the Krewe of Bonaparte at 6:30 p.m. On Monday, March 7, you can enjoy the Queen's Parade, starting at 6 p.m. The King's Parade is scheduled on Tuesday, March 8 (Fat Tuesday) at 10 a.m. There's also a Mardi Gras show featuring costume designers, music, food and dance on Saturday from 9 a.m. -  9 p.m.

  • For a Mardi Gras celebration that you'll definitely remember for years to come, head to Eunice. On Fat Tuesday, March 8, at 6 a.m., participants, also known as runners or riders, put on their Mardi Gras costumes, mount their horses or climb on flatbed trucks to chase chickens. This is the annual Courir de Mardi Gras. Tradition dates back to the 19th century. The chickens being chased are to be put into pots of gumbo. The runners also perform while asking (or begging) others for gumbo ingredients.

  • Enjoy Mardi Gras in Alexandria, as the city celebrates with various parades and events. Some that you might want to pay particular attention to include the Taste of Mardi Gras on Friday, March 4 at 7 p.m., $30. There is a Children's Parade on Saturday, March 5 that starts at 10:45 a.m., and afterward head over to the Alexandria Zoo for the King Cake Party, 2 – 4 p.m., general zoo admission.

  • Frequently referred to as the “greatest free party on earth,” you'll discover celebrating Mardi Gras in Shreveport-Bossier doesn't disappoint, especially when it comes to the parades

    “Parade-going environment is more convivial, friendly, and less hectic than in larger cities, while not sacrificing the fun, hedonistic elements that are at the heart of  Mardi Gras season,” comments Chris Jay, public relations and social media manager, Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau. “The Krewe of Highland Parade on Sunday, March 6 is a parade that rolls through our city's quirkiest neighborhood, a diverse, funky area called Highland that just oozes personality. At that parade, you can catch hot dogs and Spam sandwiches in addition to doubloons, beads, and other throws. After the parade ends, the crowd moves to Highland's Columbia Park for live music, food, and more.”

    He continues that house parties spring up on every other street when the parade ends.

    “People are barbecuing in their front yards and literally opening up their front porches and homes - it's that kind of smaller-town, neighborly feel that makes our Mardi Gras celebration so unique.”

    “Despite the fact that over 400,000 people celebrate Mardi Gras in Shreveport-Bossier every year, there remains a neighborly, friendly atmosphere, and the crowds are navigable and easier to manage.”

    Other parades that may be of interest include the Krewe of Gemini Mardi Gras on Saturday, March 5, which begins at 4:30 p.m. The Krewe of Aesclepius Children's Parade takes place on Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m.

    Aside from the parades and the celebration, you might want to visit Barnwell Garden & Art Center to view their exhibit, Mardi Gras...Do It North Louisiana Style. On display until Sunday, March 13, you can see Krewe memorabilia and many more items related to the celebration.

  • “I always jokingly say that Mardi Gras in Morgan City is the same, but different than Mardi Gras in other cities, and I always get a strange look,” comments Carrie Stansbury, director, .  “Mardi Gras in Morgan City is about small town fun. Families and friends getting together to spend the weekend together laughing and cooking. It's about relaxing and knowing that your kids can enjoy it as much as adults.”

    With over 10 krewes, including a children's krewe, experiencing Mardi Gras in the Morgan City area is a treat within itself. Especially when it comes to the various parades.

    “I think the Krewe of Galatea parade on Sunday, March 6 is one of the best in the area.  They have lots of high schools bands from throughout the state participating and the ladies are always colorfully costumed.”

    She adds that another must-see is the Oaklawn Manor, the former Governor of Louisiana’s private home, opened to the public. 

    “It is beautifully decorated in purple, green and gold.” 

  • Located between Lafayette and New Orleans, Houma is perhaps best known for its Cajun culture and plethora of outdoor activities. However, come Mardi Gras, parades take over. Why not enjoy the Krewe of Mardi Gras parade on Saturday, March 5, starting at 6:30 p.m., or the Krewe of Terreanians Mardi Gras Parade at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6. On Monday, March 7, you can view the Krewe of Cleopatra Mardi Gras Parade at 6:30 p.m., and end your experience on Fat Tuesday with three different parades.

  • In it 312th year, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is something you have to see/do yourself since it can't be honestly put into words by those who have attended in the past.

    “Mardi Gras is so many things that it's hard to distill it down to a simple description,” comments Camille Blake, with MardiGrasDay.com . “New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. so this celebration has been a part of people's lives for generations. if you ask natives about it, they would say it is in their blood!”

    “ The whole city comes alive with excitement and anticipation, however, what you will experience there depends greatly on where you are geographically. In the French Quarter, for example, it can definitely be one big, let-it-all-hang-out party, but in other parts of the city, like the Garden District, there are plenty of families relaxing and watching the parades roll by. Parades have been banned in the French Quarter since the 1970s, so that area of town is full of people on foot, many wearing costumes.”

    “The best thing to do is definitely to go to New Orleans and have the experience all over the city.”

  • Renee Keintz, VP Communications with St. Tammany Parish, points out the Northshore Mardi Gras is a very family-oriented celebration.

    “There are 20-plus parades scheduled each Mardi Gras season throughout St. Tammany Parish, aka Louisiana’s Northshore, all drawing large crowds of parents and kids. They line the parade routes, hollering for beads thrown by the float riders and dancing to the music of the marching bands going by.”

    She adds the Northshore has traditional street parades but also specialty parades and boat parades where  revelers line the banks of area waterways for the Krewe of Salt Bayou in Slidell on Saturday, March 5.

    Also, in Covington, Mardi Gras day itself is extra festive, with two large parades riding through the historic downtown’s streets. Afterwards, a huge Mardi Gras party on Tuesday, March 8 is held at Bogue Falaya Park, a celebration of food, music and Mardi Gras fun that continues throughout the day.

 

Mississippi

  • It's time for Carnival on the Coast along Mississippi's Gulf Coast this Mardi Gras season. So, whether you're visiting Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs or other places along the area, you aren't far from the fun. There's parades, such as the 3rd annual Ocean Springs Carnival Association Mardi Gras parade on Friday, March 4, starting at 7 p.m., and the 41st annual Krewe of Gemini Mardi Gras Day Parade on Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. in Gulfport, and a lot more going on.

 

Alabama

  • Let the good times roll along Alabama's Gulf Coast. The Mardi Gras celebration begins on Friday, March 4 with the Mystical Order of the Mirams parade at 5:30 p.m. The weekend features another parade, the Mystic of Pleasure Mardi Gras parade, starting at 5:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 5. Celebrate Fat Tuesday with the Orange Beach Mardi Gras parade at 2 p.m., and conclude the evening along with the season at Lulu's for a celebration and boat parade that begins at 3 p.m.

  • Not only does Mobile hold the distinction of being Alabama's oldest city, but also holds another important honor as well. The city is said to be the birthplace of American Mardi Gras celebration.

    “Our celebration reflects the birthplace of Mardi Gras,” comments Judi Gulledge, executive director, Mobile Carnival Museum. “We have over 50 organizations putting on around 30 parades. It's a big street party that's very family-oriented.”

    She points out that all of the parades are unique.

    “Each krewe follows their own individual theme. Many people think there is an overall theme to Mardi Gras, but there isn't. Each organization chooses their own theme.”

    The weekend kicks off the Moon Pie drop at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4 when the Crewe of Columbus parade begins. Saturday and Sunday packed with various parades, and if you schedule it right, you might can see them all. There's also scheduled Moon Pie drop at 6 p.m. on Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

    A must-visit during this time or anytime when you're in Mobile in the Mobile Carnival Museum, which Gulledge says pays tribute to both sides of the celebration – the royal side and the street side.

 

Florida

  • Mardi Gras in Pensacola has a long-standing tradition, dating back to the 1800s; and today, it's still going strong in both the city and on the beach. If you can arrange it, catch the parades in both places, since they offer something different.

    “There's over 100 krewes with different themes,” says Laura Lee, director of communications, Visit Pensacola. “We have three  huge parades that includes the Pensacola Mardi Gras Grand Parade on Saturday, March 5.  On the beach, there's the Krewe of Wrecks Mardi Gras Parade on Sunday, March 6 that has an island-feel to it, with the palm trees and sand. It's best of both worlds, standing on the warm sand while catching the throws.”

    “It's all in good fun.”

 

Know Your Mardi Gras

So, there's parades, balls and royalty. What about the other symbols related to Mardi Gras? How do they fit in?

What do the colors represent?

According to Camille Blake, with MardiGrasDay.com, purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.

What is a King Cake?

“Annual King Cake parties are one of the most beloved traditions,” comment Blake. “The 'King's Cake' is named after the Three Kings who took a twelve-day journey to Bethlehem. The cakes are annually baked and eaten twelve days after Christmas Day (Epiphany) until Mardi Gras Day/Fat Tuesday (the day after Fat Tuesday marks the beginning of Lent so no cakes are made after that point as many people give up sugar.)

“The plastic "baby" in each cake is said to represent baby Jesus. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby in it during the party will sometimes have the honor of hosting the next King Cake party at their house, or they will be the king or queen for the day.”

What are throws?

“Throws have been a part of Mardi Gras since the late 19th century. This custom is significant in that it is something that separate parades Mardi Gras parades from other parades around the world, also many objects thrown over the years, especially doubloons, are dated and have become collector's items,” comments Blake.

“Throws range from plastic beads and stuffed animals to doubloons stamped with the krewe's insignia and date. The most prized throw is a hand-painted Zulu coconut.”

Where do the Moon Pies come in?

According to Judi Gulledge, executive director, Mobile Carnival Museum, in the early '60s, krewes who could afford throws, threw out Cracker Jack boxes. However, the local government decided the boxes were dangerous to the crowds, so they started to look for alternatives. The Maids of Mirth discovered Moon Pies. The treats were soft and affordable, yet substantial to be thrown. In 1974, they began to toss them, with other krewes to follow and no one has looked back since.

“Moon pie throws took off like gangbusters,” says Gulledge.

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