Mardi Gras in the New Orleans Area

by blackspanielgallery

Mardi Gras season starts with the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, and ends the day before Lent on Mardi Gras Day. People hold king cake parties, and attend balls and parades.

Mardi Gras comes on a Tuesday every year, and the day is always just before the beginning of Lent. Lent is forty days of somber preparation before Easter, and is the forty days, excluding Sundays, immediately prior to Easter. Because Easter moves, so does Mardi Gras. It can be as late as early March, but normally occurs in February. It is the final day of plenty before what was some time back, and not that long ago, a period of fasting and abstinence. Translated from the French, the name means Fat Tuesday, which in older times was the day the fattened calf was cooked for a feast.
Mardi Gras, being associated with Lent, has its origins in the Roman Catholic countries of Europe. Louisiana was initially settled by the French, and later owned by Spain, then again by France for some of the state. Many of the people in the area in the eighteen-hundreds were descendants of French and the Spanish.
In 1872 Mardi Gras was celebrated with a day parade to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff by the men who would become the Rex organization. The colors of purple, symbolizing justice, gold for power, and green for faith were presented to the Grand Duke, and are now the colors of Mardi Gras. The origins of Mardi Gras in Louisiana predate this event, but this is what really caused the celebration to take hold. Despite popular belief, Mobile had Mardi Gras before New Orleans.

The Climate

February is often cold, and occasionally rain will fall, but it is unlikely sleet or snow will make an appearance. Sleet and snow are rare events in the New Orleans area, not falling every year in the southeastern portion of Louisiana. But, the humidity can make a biting cold. On the other hand, temperatures can warm to the low eighties between fronts. You never know what the weather will be like, and must be prepared for a variety of possibilities for outdoor parade viewing.

King Cake Party

A special king cake is made during the season.  The cake, which is often round or oval, has a small doll hidden within.  The doll represents Jesus, and king cake season starts January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, and ends Mardi Gras Day.


The tradition is the person who gets the piece of king cake will host the next party.


People have favorite bakeries, and not all king cakes are equal.  Even king cakes from a bakery can come filled, or not, and the filling is just about any pie filling you might think would work.


Most king cakes have cinnamon and purple, green, and gold sugar, and are sometimes drizzled with white icing.   


A king cake party, except for the inclusion of a king cake, can be much like many other parties.  They can be associated with a gathering for a parade but can also stand alone.

Mardi Gras Articles

The Mardi Gras King cake is a significant part of the season. This popular treat is enjoyed my many.
After Christmas comes Mardi Gras, and the season of Mardi Gras starts January 6. That means you can decorate your Christmas tree with a Mardi Gras theme instead of taking it down.

The Parades in New Orleans and in Metairie

Parades normally start on a Friday which falls on the twelfth day prior to Lent. Many parades are run by organizations called krewes, and the parades are free to attend. Riders wear costumes, and each of the parades has a theme. The riders of the floats dress in costumes which may be related to the title of their float, which is consistent with the parade theme. Between the floats are bands and dancing groups. Other groups such as horse-riding organizations and motorcycle groups also participate.

During slow economic times the krewes, which pay the bands and other groups to participate, began cutting back. Attrition of those dropping out of the krewes because of the dues and the cost of the items they throw often reduced the number of floats the krewe could afford. Soon, restrictions were placed on the krewes with a minimum number of floats and a minimum number of bands, and some could no longer parade because of the requirements. Others moved to the more desirable weekend time slots as they opened. It is harder to find parades on certain weekdays.

Parking is easier in Metairie, since the parades travel through a business corridor where parking is easy. Most businesses close, and using their lots is usually not a problem.

The parade route in Metairie has been reversed, but not without protest.  It has also been shortened.  This is supposedly to have it end at Family Gras.  The parade route in New Orleans is somewhat standardized, except for the beginning and end segments.  The only exception is Endymion.  This does not include the pet parade, which does not follow the standard route, and a Star Wars based parade.  smaller, specialty parades are allowed on other routes.  Also, the Krewe of Little Rascals, a children's parade, precedes the normal start of the season in Metairie, as do some smaller specialty parades.  On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain parades also start pror to the traditional start date in order to not compete for parade goers.  One can even find boat parades.   




Lundi Gras

The day before Mardi Gras used to be uneventful until the night parades rolled. Now, the meeting of the two courts of Rex and Zulu is filled with ceremony. The event gives the day some Mardi Gras significance. Although neither Rex nor Zulu will parade until Mardi Gras itself, the events do draw a crowd.

The Doubloons, Cups, and Special Krewe Beads

Mardi Gras krewes throw things, purchased by the members, to the people who watch the parade. The throws were beads and small trinkets many years ago. Then, in 1960, Rex introduced doubloons, aluminum medallions that identify the krewe, year, and parade theme. These can be colorized by being anodized. Eventually, plastic cups with parade art were added, and surpassed the doubloons in desirability. They also cost less, so some krewes abandoned the doubloon, while others now throw both cups and doubloons. Beads with the krewe insignia have gotten more elaborate, and they are also sought as prize catches.


Currently some krewes throw doubloons that are not round. This seems to be a new trend.

Collectible Doubloons

Some krewes, including some that do not parade, produce a fine silver collectible doubloon, an oxidized silver doubloon, or possibly other doubloons for the members. These are highly collectible, and not easily found.  Multicolor doubloons are also less likely to be thrown.


Other premium collectibles include posters and krewe favors.  Krewe favors can be decorative pins, plates, and cups.  In fact, they can be whatever the krewe decides to produce.

Special Doubloons

Mardi Gras Doubloons

Mardi Gras doubloons for a current year can be obtained free from parades. But, there are better, more collectible Mardi Gras doubloons that one should consider collecting.

Mardi Gras Balls

Madri Gras season officially starts on January 6, and any night after the start date Mardi Gras balls might be found. In fact, due to too few venues there are some balls that precede the start of the Mardi Gras season.

Balls are usually presided over by a king or a queen, and often they have a royal court. There is usually a theme that matches the parade theme if the krewe has a parade. Costumes can be elaborate, and these balls are often closed. One must be invited to attend. A few exceptions exist, and it is more likely to be able to buy a ticket for a super krewe’s ball than other balls.

Some parading krewes have their ball right after their parade, and the members wear their costumes right from the floats onto the ballroom floor.

Some krewes have an element of secrecy, and some members such as the captain continue to wear their masks during their balls. Others allow all of their members’ identities to be known.

Collectible Invitations

Invitations to Mardi Gras balls, especially older invitations that were given out to well-known krewes, have a high collectivity. 


Mardi Gras Day

The parades in New Orleans day include Zulu, the first to roll, and Rex. In Metairie the Krewe of Argus parades. There currently is no night parade.

It is acceptable to mask on Mardi Gras Day, and in some cases very elaborate costumes are worn. Some families costume alike. The tradition of masking is slowly diminishing, and it seems fewer people are wearing costumes than in days gone by. Some visitors erroneously think costumes are worn during the entire season, but only on Mardi Gras Day will masking be acceptable, and masking is certainly not required. More people do not mask than do.

One problem with costumes is it is difficult to plan ahead, since the temperature can be in the thirties or in the eighties. Heavy clothing can cause overheating during some years, and light clothing can be a problem when the weather is colder.

Since the parades pass before or near noon in many places, it is common for picnics to spring up. Some people even bring out a grill and set up for a long day.  They are not safe, and grills may be regulated or eliminated in the future.

One problem on Mardi Gras Day is the difficulty of getting close to a parade. People bring our ladders, and set them up adjacent to each other. Locals add seats to the ladders and use them for children, but they are not really necessary. Many remain empty for the parades. Another problem is the blankets spread so people can claim a portion of the public right of way. Add with lawn chairs and ice chests added to the ladders, the parades are practically walled off. While laws do not allow ladders right at the curb, it normally is ignored.  However, obstructions are not allowed to block cross streets.

Crowds can be thick, and many children are out. Some people seem to be unaware that the children running about are put at risk of being burned by their cigarettes, and rudely light their cigarettes and wave them carelessly in a crowd. This also endangers those in flammable costumes.

After the Rex and Argus parades are the truck parades, where families and groups of friends get together, decorate a truck, and costume as a group. There are many trucks following the main parades, and it can take hours for all of them to pass. They do throw more than the riders on the floats in many cases, but then they have no dues for the organization.

Mardi Gras Parade

The Advocate, A Newspaper

The Super Krewes

On the Saturday before Mardi Gras Endymion rolls, the first of the original super krewes, and the oldest. On Sunday comes Bacchus, the next oldest super krewe parade, and finally on Monday comes the final super krewe, the krewe of Orpheus. These three parades are larger, have more riders, and attract more people than most parades, except for those on Mardi Gras Day which attract the largest crowds. Some of the floats are signature floats, and are used year after year, while others match the current year’s theme.

Now, Nyx and Muses are also considered super krewes.  These are female krewes.  Endymion and Bacchus have male krewes.  Orpheus has a krewe composed of both men and women.  With Nyx and Muses, super krewes begin rolling before the weekend.

The largest krewe is Iris, another female krewe, and an old parade.

Super krewes often use celebrities as Grand Marshalls or as monarchs to attract more people, and they seem to have developed a silent competition with each other. A celebrity Grand Marshall throws a special doubloon with the celebrity’s image on it. These can become more collectible than other parade doubloons from the same parade.

Family Gras

Family Gras is a more recent part of the Mardi Gras season. It is a music and food festival, or at least it appears to be one. It was established in Metairie to give people an activity to be enjoyed between parades. Stages are set up and bands play. Admission is free, or I believe it so. Of course you do pay for the food and drink consumed.

Family Gras was located on the neutral ground, or as most people not from the region would say, the median of Veterans Memorial Highway between Causeway Boulevard and Severn Avenue.  It has moved to the parking lot of the Clearview Shopping Center.

Family Gras was initially held on the weekend before Mardi Gras, and struggled to reach its potential because too many people would wait all day for a super krewe in New Orleans. The event moved forward a week, and now has a permanent schedule a week ahead of Mardi Gras. It is unfortunate that most visitors are not yet in town, but many of them would be at the parades instead of at Family Gras.

Mardi Gras for the Family

Attending Mardi Gras can be rewarding, and it can be made into a family friendly event. But, it is best to know what to expect, and make the experience more enjoyable.

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Updated: 02/09/2021, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 12/07/2019

These was mention of biodegradable beads, but that was by one krewe, and the idea has not caught on. As for drain problems, this year New Orleans is considering passing an ordinance to no longer allow full packs of beads to be thrown, and the plastic bags they come in to be placed in proper containers on the floats instead of being dropped over the side. This is to reduce the trash buildup in the drainage system, since the plastic goes past the openings in the storm drains. The full packs of beads are sometimes emptied and the paper discarded by the parade goers. Biodegradable beads would probably be cost prohibited, so the idea is just an idea.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/07/2019

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for the practicalities and products.
In February 2018 there was talk about green alternatives to beads and about semi-permanent gutter buddy supplements for catch basin- and storm drain-stressed bead accumulations. Among the alternatives were tossing flower seeds (The Kostume des Fleurs chose orchids in 2018) in packets on necklaces instead of necklaces with beads. Were those measures implemented at the beginning of 2019 or will they be in 2020?

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