Let the parades begin…
Mardi Gras in New Orleans Information
Mardi Gras is an annual festival held in New Orleans, United States.
The New Orleans Carnival season, has its history with the Christmas season and starts after the Twelfth Night of Christmas, or the Epiphany (6 January). During the carnival season there will be numerous parades, balls (some of them masquerade balls) and king cake parties. It has traditionally been part of the winter social season in New Orleans and at one time "coming out" parties for young women and débutante balls were often held during this time of the year.
The parades in New Orleans are organised by krewes. A krewe is basically a club or group who put on the parades and balls. During parades at Mardi Gras, krewe float riders throw various items into to the crowds. The most common items thrown are strings of plastic colorful beads, doubloons (aluminum or wooden dollar-sized coins usually impressed with a krewe logo), decorated plastic cups, and small inexpensive toys. Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year.
The celebration of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by early French settlers. The first record of the holiday being celebrated in Louisiana was at the mouth of the Mississippi River on 3 March 1699.
The exact starting date for Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not known, but it is known that in 1743 that organised balls around this time of year were taking place. Parades and the wearing of masks on Mardi Gras had also taken place for some time. However, for various reasons Mardi Gras celebrations have often been prohibited by law over the years. In 1833 Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple (justice), gold (power) and green (faith). These colors are said to have been chosen by Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch Romanoff of Russia during a visit to New Orleans in 1872. This doctrine was reaffirmed in 1892, when the Rex Parade theme "Symbolism of Colors" gave the colors their meanings.
The Festival Season
The Twelfth Night Revelers, one of the festivals oldest krewes, holds a masked ball each year on 6 January to mark the commencement of the festival. Many of the festivals oldest groups such as the Elves of Oberon and the High Priests of Mithras hold masked balls, but do not parade in public.
The parade season starts some three weekends before Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras in French). Fat Tuesday is also commonly known around the Christian world as Shrove Tuesday and it is the day before Ash Wednesday. There is usually at least one parade every night starting two Fridays before Mardi Gras, but many days have several large parades. The largest and most elaborate parades take place during the last five days of the season. In the final week of the festival, many events occur throughout New Orleans and the surrounding communities.
While many tourists center their Mardi Gras season activities on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, because of its narrow streets and overhead obstructions none of the major Mardi Gras parades has entered the French Quarter since 1972. Instead, major parades originate in the Uptown and Mid-City districts and follow a route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, on the upriver side of the French Quarter.
To New Orleanians, "Mardi Gras" specifically refers to the Tuesday before lent, the highlight of the season. The term can also be used less specifically to the complete carnival season, and is often referred to as "the Mardi Gras season". The term "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras Day" always refers only to that specific day.
Weekend before Mardi Gras
The population of New Orleans more than doubles with visitors on the weekend before Mardi Gras. Thursday night starts with a bang with an all-women's parade featuring the Krewe of Muses. The parade is relatively new starting in 2001, but its membership has more than tripled since. It is popular for its items thrown away and themes mocking politicians and celebrities.
Friday night is the occasion of the large Krewe of Hermes and satirical Krewe D'État parades, ending with one of the fastest growing krewes, the Krewe of Morpheus. There are several smaller neighborhood parades like the Krewe of Barkus and the Krewe of OAK.
Several daytime parades roll on Saturday (including Krewe of Tucks) and Sunday (Okeanos and Thoth). The first of the "super krewes", Endymion, parades on Saturday night, with the celebrity-led Bacchus parade on Sunday night.
Monday is known as Lundi Gras ("Fat Monday"). The monarchs of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club and Krewe of Rex, who will parade the following day, arrive by boat on the Mississippi River front at the foot of Canal Street, where an all-day party is staged. Uptown parades start with the parade of one of New Orleans' most prestigious organizations, the Krewe of Proteus.
Mardi Gras Day
Mardi Gras is a day to be remembered in New Orleans. The city comes alive and celebrations begin early on Mardi Gras Day, but the city parties all day until the stroke of midnight. A number of people will be out wearing masks and disguises.
Depending on when Easter is each year, Mardi Gras can fall on any Tuesday between 3 February and 9 March. Upcoming years dates are listed below:
Uptown, the Zulu parade rolls first, followed by the Rex parade, which both end on Canal Street. A number of smaller parading organizations with "truck floats" follow the Rex parade. Numerous smaller parades and walking clubs also parade around the city. The Jefferson City Buzzards, the Lyons Club, the Irish Channel Corner Club, Pete Fountain's Half Fast Walking Club and the KOE all start early in the day Uptown and make their way to the French Quarter with at least one jazz band. At the other end of the old city, the Society of Saint Anne journeys from the Bywater through Marigny and the French Quarter to meet Rex on Canal Street.
A common con often played on tourist is a "ticket" to Mardi Gras. There is no official invitation-only celebration that requires a ticket. Mardi Gras is composed of various events such as balls for social clubs in the New Orleans area, but the main event is simply a street festival, open to the public. Some individual krewes do however produce an official poster of their organization each year. There are viewing stands erected along St. Charles Avenue that require a ticket for seating.
End of each Mardi Gras
The formal end of Mardi Gras arrives with "the Meeting of the Courts", a term describing the ceremony at which Rex and His Royal Consort, the King and Queen of Carnival, meet with Comus and his Queen at the ball of the Mistick Krewe of Comus, New Orleans oldest active carnival organization. The Meeting of the Courts happens at the conclusion of the two groups masked balls, which traditionally was at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. Since 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, the Ball has been held in the Marriott Hotel.
Promptly at the stroke of midnight at the end of Fat Tuesday, a mounted squad of New Orleans police officers make a show of clearing upper Bourbon Street where the bulk of out-of-town revelers congregate, announcing that Mardi Gras is over, as it is the start of Lent, commencing with Ash Wednesday.
In New Orleans Ash Wednesday (the day after Fat Tuesday) is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Trash Wednesday" because of the amount of garbage left in the streets by the previous day's celebrations. The amount of rubbish and garbage left over from Mardi Gras is always a local news item.
So How do you do the Mardi Gras in New Orleans?
Mardi Gras Travel Information
To be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras is one of the must-do travel experiences. We have extensive information on all Mardi Gras travel and tour options available. With hundreds of thousands of people attending the Mardi Gras festival each year, New Orleans becomes a very busy place and available accommodation and flights become hard to come by for Mardi Gras. We advise you to book as early as you possibly can, as Mardi Gras in New Orleans can get very busy and expensive for accommodation.
If you are an independent traveller and you like to book it all yourself, then we have all the tools required for you to get the best out of Mardi Gras. Check out our Accommodation booking page, where you will find both our Hotel and Hostel Search Engines. If you need to book flights, we have a great Flight Search Engine that searces hundreds of online travel and airline websites to find you the best deal. With all our search engines all deals are located on one easy page for you to click, compare and book.
Mardi Gras Tours
One of the easiest ways to enjoy the Mardi Gras is to join one of the many tours on offer. Some of the tour operators still have avaiability for 2015 Mardi Gras Tours.
G Adventures runs a 6 day accommodation only tour for Oktoberfest. From your centrally located hotel, you're just a quick walk from the French Quarter where all the action takes place, including watching a parade with your other G Adventures revellers. You'll hear the absolutely thrilling sounds (and sights) of Bourbon Street, coffee and beignets at the iconic Café du Monde, and spend time in some of America's most beautiful neighbourhoods. Don't let another year go by without getting to this iconic event..