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All you need to know about New Orleans Mardi Gras

Published February 17th, 2015

A festival like no other, the legendary New Orleans Mardi Gras has been dubbed ‘America’s greatest party’. Mardi Gras has rocked the city each year since the mid-19th century, and still goes strong today with parties and parades alongside jaw-droppingly flamboyant costumes and masks. Get ready to party….

 

Throw beads are a much coveted treasure at Mardi Gras.

 

When is it?

Carnival season starts on January 6 - the Twelfth Night - each year, kicking off with masked balls around the city of New Orleans in Louisiana in the US Deep South. Festivities wrap up at the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday (dubbed 'Trash Wednesday' as the hangover sets in and the big clean up begins!). The actual Mardi Gras date (Tuesday, February 17 this year  - the day before Ash Wednesday) fluctuates each year,  falling 47 days before Easter.

 

Mardi Gras decorations on a French Quarter balcony.

 

What’s it all about?

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday (also known as Shrove Tuesday) and Fat Tuesday itself is the final and biggest day of the carnival season. The French influence brought the Mardi Gras celebration to the city, and its origins started as a way of cutting loose before the austerity of the Catholic season of Lent set in. The city comes alive with balls, parades, parties and festivities, and the population swells with visitors from around the world coming to join in the fun. You’ll see the colours of Mardi Gras everywhere - purple, gold and green are said to represent the Catholic symbols of justice, power and faith, respectively.

 

Join the krewe! Mardi Gras parades include costumes, floats and throws.

 

The parades

Organised by different parade krewes, the Mardi Gras parades form the core of the celebrations. Check the parade schedule for routes and times when you visit - there are dozens of elaborate parades throughout carnival season with the famous Rex and Zulu parades among others livening up the city streets on the day of Mardi Gras. Parades generally avoid the popular (and haunted) French Quarter nowadays as the streets are too narrow, with most beginning in the uptown and mid-city areas. As the masked and costumed parades pass, they’ll throw trinkets like beads and doubloons (special medallions with the krewe's name on them) to the crowds. Called 'throws', this is another age-old tradition and part of the crazy fun of Mardi Gras.

 

Masks are legal on Fat Tuesday and float riders have to wear them by law!

 

Baring all

Bare bosoms are par for the course at Mardi Gras, although it’s mostly a tourist tradition, and takes place on Bourbon Street and around the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday. Uninhibited female revellers overcome with wild abandonment have been ritually disrobing for over a century and it’s very much part of the festivities these days, much to the joy of the partying male population of New Orleans and even though the temps are a little fresh!

 

Even outside of Mardi Gras Bourbon Street is always happening.

 

Now you’ve got the lowdown on New Orleans’ favourite party, pack your feather boas and Beroccas, and as you’ll hear over and over again at Mardi Gras, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” - a Louisiana Cajun expression that means "Let the good times roll!".

 

Amy Dalgleish

Wanderlust pommie, currently living the dream in sunny Byron Bay.