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C is for Carnival + 13 Reasons to Celebrate in New Orleans

C is for Carnival + 13 Reasons to Celebrate in New Orleans


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 02/25/2020
Posted On 03/09/2020 16:55:14

Destinations | Louisiana | New Orleans | Mardi Gras | Carnival | Fat Tuesday | Krewes | Parades | Throws | Dubloons | King Cake



Mardi Gras in New Orleans seems to be synonymous with craziness, partying and a city full of flashers and drunks. You may, however, have heard conflicting opinions about what it's like to watch the parades traveling down the streets of this well known Louisiana city.

This post will start by explaining the difference between Mardi Gras and Carnival. By the end, you'll also understand the meanings of many words often used in conjunction with Mardi Gras such as krewes, throws, dubloons and even king cake. We'll also shed light on some Fat Tuesday traditions. Throughout it all, you'll learn the truths about why you should start making your plans to travel to New Orleans during Mardi Gras!

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C is for Carnival

The term Mardi Gras is often used when referring to the several weeks of parades, parties and other celebrations in New Orleans before Ash Wednesday. Actually, the correct term for the season extending from Ephiphany or Three Kings Day (January 6) through the day before Ash Wednesday is Carnival. Mardi Gras is the final day (always a Tuesday) of the Carnival season. At midnight when the day and season come to an end, the Christian observation of Lent begins.


Rex Parade: The Flowers of Spring

Rex Parade: The Flowers of Spring

It is during the Lenten season when many Christians fast and/or give up luxuries in an attempt to emulate the sacrifices made by Christ. Carnival, on the other hand, is a period of time when many indulge in the foods and drinks that they plan to give up during Lent. Carnival begins with the Feast of the Epiphany and culminates on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French).

Now that there are no questions about the difference between Carnival and Mardi Gras, let's talk reality. In Rio de Janeiro, the parades and parties are virtually always referred to as Carnival. In New Orleans, however, people generally refer to the entire season as Mardi Gras. Clear is mud? We'll use both terms interchangeably in this article to keep you on your toes!

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Anyway ... it's now time to understand why you should celebrate Carnival (or Mardi Gras!) in New Orleans. Here's 13 C's to convince you to begin planning your trip now:

1. C is for Complimentary

While in New Orleans, I heard a television news reporter refer to Mardi Gras as the "biggest free party in the world". After the statement sunk in, I realized how true it is. While there are plenty of options for spending your hard earned money, you can also participate without spending a dime (other than possibly paying for transportation).

Mardi Gras is sponsored and paid for by a number of carnival clubs known locally as Krewes. The members of the more than 30 krewes fully plan and fund the many celebrations throughout the city. Money is raised by krewe members through payment of dues and fundraising events with some krewes obtaining corporate sponsorships as well. After spending the final week of Carnival in New Orleans, it's hard to believe how much time and money krewe members spend to put on what is frequently promoted as the "greatest free show on earth"!

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It would be negligent to avoid mentioning the daily clean up. Sponsored and paid for by the City of New Orleans, it is amazing to see how quickly the city is cleaned up each evening following the events of the day. Having been to New Orleans on multiple occasions, I believe it's quite possible that the city was cleaner at the start of each day during Mardi Gras than during my previous visits!


Ready for Street Cleaning!

Ready for Street Cleaning!

2. C is for Community

Mardi Gras is truly a community event. The parades and parties are not put on as money grabs for visitors. Just about every member of the community attends. We met and talked to many locals each day as we waited for the next parade to begin. Every single person talked about not missing a single year of attendance.

Many non-essential businesses are closed on Mardi Gras Day. This makes it even easier for locals to participate in the many events on Fat Tuesday. (Having been in banking for my entire professional career, I was amazed when I first learned that banking holidays differed in Louisiana because of Mardi Gras!)

Classes at local colleges and universities are usually not held on Tuesday. Most elementary and secondary schools close for the entire week. Even some of those businesses which don't close for the entire day may close early on Fat Tuesday. We thought that we would make a stop at Starbuck's in the afternoon for a frozen drink only to learn that the location near the French Quarter had also closed early in the day!

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3. C is for Choices

With over 30 krewes sponsoring various Mardi Gras events, there are a multitude of choices. Contrary to many comments that you may hear or read, there are plenty of family friendly events (read on below for more about this). For those interested in adult only events, your best bet will be to seek them out in the French Quarter. It is there where more risqué apparel and behavior (including the often talked about "flashing") will be on display.

4. C is for Colors

No matter what time of year you visit New Orleans, you will see the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold on display. During Carnival, however, these three colors will be nearly everywhere! Make sure to check out the the cool architecture all around the city to see how these three colors are on display.


LaBranche House in New Orleans' French Quarter

LaBranche House in New Orleans' French Quarter

Royal Street at Dumaine

Royal Street at Dumaine

Check out the Mardi Gras Decor!

Check out the Mardi Gras Decor!

By the way, do you know the meaning of each of the colors? Purple represents justice, faith is represented by the color green and gold symbolizes power!

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5. C is for Costumes

From masks (only allowed on Fat Tuesday) or hats to elaborate head to toe costumes with no detail missing, just about any apparel goes during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It doesn't matter how old you are, it can be fun to get all decked out (or assume an alter-ego). Don't pass on the opportunity to dress up if you are not a youngster - we actually spotted more adults than children in costume ... and it's not even Halloween!


Amazing Costume Details

Amazing Costume Details

At a minimum, dress in the traditional Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold) ... it's reported that you'll have better luck with numbers 10 and 11 below!


Ready for the Day's Parades to Roll!

Ready for the Day's Parades to Roll!

6. C is for Cavalcade or Convoy

Okay, I know that I'm grasping for words, but it needs to start with C! Both cavalcade and convoy imply a procession or group of vehicles traveling together. That is just what a parade is - right?

For more than a hundred years, parades have been a part of Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations. Rather than having an overall theme for the Carnival season, each krewe decides on their own parade theme (or chooses to not have a theme). Depending on the location and the day, you might find walking parades, traditional rolling parades or even truck parades.

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When you hear the word parade, you may immediately think about floats. Although not all krewes have floats, the traditional rolling parades do include a combination of floats, marching bands, dancers and more. While some krewes design, create and decorate their own floats, many hire companies that specialize in float building.


Lamar University's The Showcase of Southeast Texas

Lamar University's The Showcase of Southeast Texas

Floats come in all shapes and sizes with some floats for evening parades being full of electronic lighting. As they pass in front of you one by one, you may wonder if there's a competition (similar to Rio's Carnival). Whether you are in a krewe or just a spectator, the goal of the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans is simple. There's no competition at all - just a free show geared toward everyone having a good time!


The Krewe of Muses Parade Begins

The Krewe of Muses Parade Begins

Le Krewe d'Etat Celebrates "Coach O"

Le Krewe d'Etat Celebrates "Coach O"

Krewe of Bacchus Queen Kong Float

Krewe of Bacchus Queen Kong Float

Krewe of Bacchus

Krewe of Bacchus

Krewe of Endymion Parade Kicks Off

Krewe of Endymion Parade Kicks Off

Krewe of Endymion: Historic Dynasties

Krewe of Endymion: Historic Dynasties

Title Float of Krewe of Proteus Parade

Title Float of Krewe of Proteus Parade

Krewe of Proteus Parade continues with Octoberfest

Krewe of Proteus Parade continues with Octoberfest

Krewe of Orpheus: The Beastly Kingdoms

Krewe of Orpheus: The Beastly Kingdoms

The Zulu Tramps

The Zulu Tramps

King Zulu 2020

King Zulu 2020

Krewe of Rex: Butterfly King

Krewe of Rex: Butterfly King

What about the walking parades and truck parades? Due to the narrow streets, floats haven't traveled along any of the streets in the French Quarter since the early 1970s. There are, however, walking parades that you can still find there.


Krewe of Bosom Buddies Walking Parade

Krewe of Bosom Buddies Walking Parade

More of the "Bosom Buddies"

More of the "Bosom Buddies"

Big Fun Brass Band in French Quarter Walking Parade

Big Fun Brass Band in French Quarter Walking Parade

A sign that the end of Carnival is near, the truck parades are the last to travel the streets of New Orleans. Flat bed semi-trucks are decorated by families, clubs, fraternities and the like to participate in the final two parades each year. There's no overall theme for each parade, but unlike the traditional parades, there is a competition! The winning truck in each parade will be the first truck to lead the parade the following year.


ELKS, Krewe of Orleanians: All About Us Carnival Club

ELKS, Krewe of Orleanians: All About Us Carnival Club

7. C is for Custom

Witnessing long standing traditions is fun and can also be a great history lesson. Although this list is filled with many long standing customs, it is important to single out the flambeaux tradition. Dating back to the 1850s, wooden torches were carried for lighting along the night time parade routes.

In days gone bye, flambeaux were most often carried by slaves or free men of color. These torch carriers put on a show of their own as they moved along the route while dancing and twirling their torches. They were loved by the crowd and often recognized with tips.

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With today's lighted floats, the light of the torches is no longer needed in order to see the night time parades. Many krewes, however, still include a more modernized version of this tradition in their parades. Although today's torches are much safer, the flambeaux remain a crowd favorite and tipping these "performers" continues!


Flambeaux

Flambeaux

8. C is for Crown

While there are plenty of similarities and differences, almost all of the krewes have a royal court made up of a king, queen, maids and dukes. Most royal positions change from year to year and there is no set method of selecting the members of the court. Throughout the year, krewe members, including the royalty, work tirelessly on projects and events which often culminate in an invitation-only ball.

Parade goers have an opportunity to see some members of the royal courts during the various Mardi Gras parades. Kings, queens and other royalty often ride on one of the first few floats of each parade which are dedicated to the court. As you can imagine, they don't wear their every day clothes during the parades! Even during the parade, members of royalty are decked out in spectacular royal costumes complete with amazing crowns.


Krewe of Endymion Royalty

Krewe of Endymion Royalty

The King of Carnival, known as Rex is a member of none other than the Krewe of Rex, officially known as the School of Design. The identity of Rex is first revealed to the public on Lundi Gras (Fat Monday). Those lucky enough to be watching the Rex parade on Tuesday from the grandstands or street across from Gallier Hall, New Orleans former city hall, will be able to see and hear his toast with the mayor.


Rex

Rex

9. C is for Celebrity

As the parades pass you by, you may even spot a celebrity or two ... or more! For over 50 years, the Krewe of Bacchus has selected a national celebrity to reign as their king. Singer Robin Thicke who served as Bacchus LII was seen leading the procession of floats during 2020.

Singer Harry Connick, Jr., a founding member of the Krewe of Orpheus, has been spotted riding on floats in previous years and 2020 was no exception. The krewe's 2020 monarch was actor Bryan Cranston from the hit television show "Breaking Bad". Country music star Lauren Alaina and other celebrities also rode with the krewe.

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10. C is for Catch

Attending a Mardi Gras parade is a great opportunity to test your catching skills. A common phrase yelled from parade attendees to the masked krewe members riding on floats as they pass by is, "Throw Me Something, Mister". And throw they do!


"Throw me something, Mister!"

"Throw me something, Mister!"

"What do they throw?", you ask. Well, the list is a long one. One of the most common throws (and easiest to catch) are the ever popular Mardi Gras beads (aka beaded necklaces). You'll be amazed at how many shapes and sizes (and colors) you will see. Some beads are round and some are barrel shaped; some are links and even others are more decorative - flags, chili peppers, shamrocks, coins ... the list feels as if it is never ending. Some strands are long, others are medium or short in length. Some strands have batteries and switches which let the wearer change the mode of lighted beads from on to blinking to off.


So Many Beads for a Mardi Gras Party!

So Many Beads for a Mardi Gras Party!

But, that's not all. Throws include cups, toys, stuffed animals, flowers, dolls, magnets, stickers, jewelry, balls, kitchen utensils, umbrellas, t-shirts ... I can't even name all that we left with! If you have young ones in your group, they will likely get special attention. Krewe members are on the lookout for kids. They will select something special and will often make eye contact with a child (or nearby parent to help with catching) before throwing. If the throw doesn't land quite as planned, it is common courtesy to help make sure that the intended recipient gets the item. All eyes (crowd and krewe members) are watching!


Just a Tiny Fraction of the Throws we Left New Orleans With

Just a Tiny Fraction of the Throws we Left New Orleans With

Don't worry ... there's more than enough to go around. Bottom line: If you want to, you can leave with so many complimentary remembrances of attending parades that you won't know what to do with them all! Hint: If you plan on catching, it's a great idea to bring one or more bags so that you can more easily carry your treasured throws home.

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11. C is for Collectables

Members within each krewe work together to plan their costumes as well as their unique throws. Through the years, some throws have become coveted collectables. Dubloons, round wooden or metal colored tokens or medallions, have been collected by parade-goers since the early 1960s. The krewe's emblem is usually seen on one side of the dubloon with the other side depicting the parade theme, an image of the celebrity king or something else krewe specific. (The dubloons of today are loosely patterned after the medallions originally thrown in the 1880s by the Krewe of Rex.)


Dubloons, Dubloons and More Dubloons!

Dubloons, Dubloons and More Dubloons!

Just like stamp and coin collectors, some collectors are extremely diligent in organizing their dubloons following each and every season. Collectors save, trade or even buy and sell dubloons in hopes of getting their hands on those that are more unique and not mass produced.

Several krewes have become known for "signature throws". Although each throw is hand decorated and unique, they are created and thrown year after year and are cherished and coveted. Some of the best known are the coconuts thrown by Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the all female Krewe of Muses' shoes and purses from the Krewe of Nyx, also an all female group. In the French Quarter, decorated bras are thrown by both Bosom Buddies & Breast Friends and Prima Donnas: The Guardians of Haute Couture.


Collectable Bra Crafted by the Prima Donnas

Collectable Bra Crafted by the Prima Donnas

Our Prized Zulu Coconut & Nyx Purse

Our Prized Zulu Coconut & Nyx Purse

It is common for some of the more coveted items to be used to tease the crowd and are only thrown out in a very selective manner.

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12. C is for Culinary Delights

The food in Louisiana is always excellent ... and with the Lenten season just around the corner, indulging in culinary delights is just what many do! Central Grocery & Deli is the home of the muffuletta which can be ordered for take-out. With a relatively inexpensive price tag, you can still get a taste of New Orleans either before or between parades. Po-boys, also on the less-expensive side, can be another easy take-out meal for eating between watching.


Ready to Devour our Muffuletta

Ready to Devour our Muffuletta

For sit down dining, there are too many restaurants to name that offer good 'ole Cajun cuisine! Louisiana is well known for its gumbo and jambalaya. (We even met some locals who cooked their jambalaya at home and brought enough to feed a crowd before the parades began!). Then there's crawfish, oysters and shrimp, always perfectly spiced and cooked so many different ways. On the sweet side, it's hard to pass up beignets covered in powdered sugar.


From Sad Face to Happy Face with Beignets!

From Sad Face to Happy Face with Beignets!

13. C is for Cake

King cake, that is! With the tradition of king cakes dating back to the 1870s, it's almost as if Mardi Gras is not Mardi Gras without one (or two or more)! The name "king" is thought to represent the three Wise Men meeting baby Jesus on Three Kings Day (January 6, the first day of Carnival).

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Traditionally king cakes were round in shape, flavored with cinnamon and decorated with Mardi Gras colored sugars. Today, king cakes come in a variety of shapes with different fillings including flavored cream cheeses and fruits. What hasn't changed is the wonder and anticipation of who is going to get the slice of cake with the small baby.

A small (usually plastic) baby is inserted into each cake. According to legend, the figurine is said to represent Baby Jesus. Receiving the slice with the baby is considered good luck. Tradition also says that the person who finds the baby must bring the king cake the following year!


King Cakes are even Sold at Grocery Stores

King Cakes are even Sold at Grocery Stores

That's A Wrap!

Here's hoping that these 13 C's have helped convince you to make plans to attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the near future. It is certainly a celebration like no other, even though New Orleans may not be where Mardi Gras was first celebrated. (The city of Mobile claims to have had the first Mardi Gras celebration before New Orleans was even founded!)

As you ponder planning this fantastic celebration, consider making your preliminary plans now. With dynamic pricing on hotels coupled, with the ability to cancel many reservations, it just makes sense to start planning as soon as possible. Just keep track of all of your deadlines for free cancellation!

Booking accommodations through Booking.com is easy. By using the link provided, The Wordy Explorers will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. (We truly appreciate your support!) If you don't already have one, make sure to create a Booking.com account so that you become a member of their loyalty program.

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Thinking About Attending Mardi Gras?

Stop back in the coming months to read A First Timer's Guide to Attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is here that we'll provide you with lots of tips for your first visit to Mardi Gras. From dining, lodging and parking to where to watch parades and what to bring, we'll share all that you need to know to enjoy your first Mardi Gras experience in the Crescent City.

Celebrations

Of all celebrations that you have attended, which has been your favorite and what made you enjoy it so much?




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C is for Carnival + 13 Reasons to Celebrate in New Orleans







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