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11 Things About New Orleans Mardi Gras You Probably Have No Clue About

New Orleans Mardi Gras, we like to say, is a party the city likes to give for itself where everyone in the world is invited. The news media loves to play up the rowdiness and the seeming chaos that occurs on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras weekend and Fat Tuesday. But this is only one street in the French Quarter where mostly tourists gather to participate in what they think is the real Mardi Gras. It hardly reflects what is happening in the rest of the city during carnival.

11 Things About New Orleans Mardi Gras You Probably Have No Clue About

One of the many amazing costumes that you can see Mardi Gras day in New Orleans.

One of the many amazing costumes that you can see Mardi Gras day.

So here is short list of things most people have no clue about when it come to New Orleans Mardi Gras:

1. It has its origins in Roman times and is actually originally a pagan celebration

2. The Catlick Choich tried to wipe it out since it was really a pretty heathen holiday. But when it realized it could not be squelched it just adopted it and put it right before Ash Wednesday, actually creating Ash Wednesday to be the day after Mardi Gras.

3. The original reason people masked during carnival way back in ancient times was to conceal their identity so they could engage in all kinds of debauched activity for that one day.

4. New Orleans was founded on Mardi Gras day, and that piece of land (not present day New Orleans) is still known as Mardi Gras Point. The French brought the celebration with them to the new world.

5. Other U.S. cities have tried to have their own Mardi Gras but it has always ended in chaos and riots because these people only see the surface celebrations of New Orleans, the parades, the masking, the drinking without understanding the unique religious, societal and historical underpinnings of the holiday.

6. Mardi Gras and carnival can only occur in Catholic countries and cities. Without the idea of the coming season of Lent and sacrifice, fasting and prayer the holiday otherwise has no meaning. Which is why when other city’s have tried to duplicate the trappings of the holiday it always devolves into chaos. These people do not understand its essence and thus fail, and fail miserably.

7. At various times during Carnival in New Orleans there can be a million people out on the streets for the parades. There are no riots and never have there been riots or anything close to it. Everyone pretty much behaves themselves and are only out there looking to have a good time with friends and family.

The New Orleans police department is world-renowned for crowd control. But it is more than just the police that keeps it under control, it’s the attitude of the people of New Orleans, that this is a party we are throwing for ourselves, and letting things get out of hand is not tolerated, and is not even anybody’s idea of having fun. We just want to watch a parade, catch beads, eat, drink, be with friends and family and have a good time.

8. New Orleans Mardi Gras and carnival is for people of all ages, and is not just a debauched holiday with people getting drunk and naughty and crazy. Yes, you can find some of that in the Quarter but away from there you will see families with little kids in tow, sitting on top of ladders made especially for parade viewing and catching beads. You’ll see little old ladies with their hands out for a throw from a float.

You’ll see nuns and priests among the crowds as well having a good time too, sometimes you’ll see them with a beer in hand shouting “hey hey hey” waiting for the guy on the float to throw them something. And I’ve been the Quarter on Mardi Gras day and seen little kids down there too with their parents in cute family costumes.

9. On Mardi Gras day you’ll see some of the most amazing, creative costumes that you’ll see anywhere in the world. You’ll find these especially in the Quarter, but I’ve seen many unique, funny creative costumes uptown on St. Charles Avenue. But the Quarter definitely has the lion’s share of them.

rex and comus new orleans madrdi

The customary meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus Mardi Gras evening.

10. 12th Night is the beginning of the carnival season in New Orleans and from then on to Mardi Gras day there are krewes giving very formal beautiful invitation-only balls with a king and queen and debutants being presented.

Almost every parading organization has such a ball with the king, usually anonymous to the ball goers, the queen, usually a debutant who has been honored with being queen for that year, wearing a beautiful gown especially designed for her.

These exclusive balls has its own customs and traditions. But not every krewe has a parade. So there are tons more of these krewes who give balls then those who parade.

Usually the krewes are made up of men, but there are a few female krewes, a few black krewes and even some gay krewes with their own formal celebrations. Some of these krewes have been in existence for over 150 years.

Beautiful artwork representing a Comus parade during New Orleans Mardi Gras

Beautiful artwork representing a Comus parade.

11. The oldest organization that has paraded continuously up to the present day is Rex, which rolls in the morning on Mardi Gras day. It was founded in 1872. The very oldest organization is Comus founded in 1856 and for 100 years was the Mardi Gras night parade. It stopped rolling in the 1991.

So do you see why you can’t just decide your city’s gonna have Mardi Gras one year. NOLA’s grew out organically and the New Orleans Mardi Gras we now celebrate came from over hundreds of combined years of celebrating and deep lasting traditions. And to be honest this list only scratches the surface of our unique New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Festivals, New Orleans History, New Orleans Life.

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