We are a short week away from Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras! We Girlfriends grew up on the Gulf Coast and celebrate Mardi Gras every year even though our travels have led us far and wide across the US. This year we’ll be sporting purple, green and gold, cooking up a big pot of gumbo and baking a king cake in sunny Arizona! But for those of you that have no idea what it’s all about, we thought we’d put together a little Mardi Gras 101!
Janna, Joli & Janice circa 2002
WHAT IS IT? Mardi Gras is a French term that translates to “Fat Tuesday” in English. It is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent in Catholicism when fasting typically begins. While technically only one day, Mardi Gras now represents the period between Epiphany and Lent as many celebrations begin in January and continue through Fat Tuesday.
WHERE IS IT? It officially began in Mobile, Alabama in 1830 when the first “Krewe” was formed. The U.S. version has been celebrated along the Gulf Coast for almost 200 years in many forms and New Orleans has become the center of Mardi Gras festivities with over 60 parades in the city and innumerable balls and parties. Can’t get to New Orleans? There are Mardi Gras parades in large cities all across the country, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Boston, Houston and Phoenix! Outside of the US, Mardi Gras is typically called Carnival.
WHO DOES IT? Catholics – and everyone else. The traditions are rooted in Catholicism, but the popularity has extended far beyond the religious context for many people. The organized groups who host parades and other Mardi Gras events are called “Krewes” with terminology relating to mystic societies. While the “mystic” or “secret” part is used loosely these days, some of these groups have specific membership qualifications and charge fees to participate. They often elect a King and Queen and have exclusive masked balls.
WHAT TO WEAR? Anything goes – see photo below!
SHOULD I PARTICIPATE? A resounding YES!!! It’s flat out fun for everyone but here are some helpful guidelines:
With kids: Most daytime parades are kid-friendly and relatively tame. New Orleans has the longest and most elaborate parades but with younger children and to avoid crowds, you may want to try the smaller Gulf Coast towns like Pensacola and Mobile. Bring extra bags for the beads, stuffed animals, cups, moon pies and candy that you will receive. It won’t take long for you to get the hang of plucking plastic necklaces and bracelets out of the sky as they are hurled from passing floats. Try to catch the eye of the krewe members on the float and they will throw it right to you! Dress up the kids with masks, boas, hats, etc. They’ll love it and you’ll have a ball too!
Adults Only: Nighttime events get rowdier as the hours progress and will involve lots of drinking, dancing and overall revelry. There may be some wild moments, so be prepared. You’ll see some lots of costumes, or the lack thereof, so feel free to dress it up and live it up! Great photo opportunities abound!
Mayhem Seekers: Bourbon Street in New Orleans is not for the faint of heart. You will see serious naughtiness (and various states of nudity). Pay attention and be safe!
Can’t get to an event? Host your own! Decorate with purple, gold and green. Tempt your taste buds with a classic N’awlins dish like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, muffulettas or gumbo. Offer beads and costume accessories for great party pics. And most importantly, teach your friends about the unusual and fun tradition of the KING CAKE. It’s kind of like monkey bread with a twist! A small trinket (usually a plastic baby representing Baby Jesus) is baked inside (**choking hazard – don’t forget to tell your guests in advance) and it’s up to you what the receiver of said trinket receives. Might we suggest anointing them Mardi Gras King or Queen and obligating them to host next year’s party! LOL! Then “Laissez les bon Temps Rouler!” or Let the Good Times Roll!
**Most of this information is from our past experiences, but we referenced Wikipedia and the official Mardi Gras websites of New Orleans, Pensacola and Mobile for some of the specifics.