Breaking the Stereotypes of Mardi Gras
When you are in your thirties everyone around you is either getting married or having kids. 2017 happens to be the year of weddings for Marc & I, 5 to be exact. I was invited to partake in a bachelorette party in New Orleans. I’ve been to New Orleans twice before and absolutely adore this city, but know what damage it can do on your liver. Like Vegas, I navigated this city like a tourist. I ate all the creole I could get my hands on, drank in the streets, and danced to the wee hours to live jazz. When you turn thirty you realize how hard it is to recover from these type of nights, the sudden horror of recouping slaps my mind when I found out the news. My body screams YES to travel and NO to the hangover. Welp, it’s a weekend not about me, time to put my head down and plow forward in honor of the beautiful bride-to-be.
My sister has very different views of this city, she recently moved here just under a year ago. I thought she was insane. Works to my advantage, a free place to stay and spending quality time with her before I blackout for the weekend! Sign me up. I booked my flight to arrive Feb 28th, informed my sister and she screeches,
“You’ll be here for Mardi Gras!” Commence Beethoven’s,“Symphony Number Five,” vibrating in my brain.
Oh shit, what did I just do? Mardi Gras and a bachelorette party equals…death.
I’m sure like most of you, Mardi Gras brings one vision to your mind. Boobs and beads. Why is this even a holiday? My sister was convinced on showing me that it is far from what I ever expected. She explained that it’s an almost endless celebration that began well before I would arrive. It’s family oriented, cheerful, and colorful.
I only envisioned the 3 B’s; boobs, beads, and beer. Now I’m curious, are you saying Mardi Gras isn’t how most people actually envision?
“Not even close,” she states.
I am thrilled to share what I learned and hope to open your mind to an experience all can enjoy!
Why do we celebrate Mardi Gras?
Believe it or not, this is a Christian religious celebration. It begins after Christmas known as Three Kings Day and stretches up until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. A time of festivities where we celebrate and indulge before Lent. Lent is when Christians quit a guilty pleasure for almost 6 weeks leading until Easter Sunday.
The length of these celebrations depend on the calendar year but last anywhere from 3-4 months.
When was Mardi Gras established?
The origins of this celebrations can be traced back to medieval times in Europe. It was their Carnival-like celebrations that were later carried over to New Orleans in the mid-1800’s by a French explorer that deemed the land he owned in Louisiana as “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” Various impromptu celebrations were common with men parading the streets in wagons, causing havoc. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the city realized they have to create some order to the chaos.
The Rex Organization was founded in 1872 to assist in organizing these celebrations. The Grand Duke, Alexis Romanoff of Russia, was to visit and it was vital the city was presented in a good light. It was then when the theatrics of costuming, masks, and day-time parading began. The Rex Organization continued to grow and establish the city in a stronger light opening the door to build more organizations to follow and take part in the festivities.
Why do we eat king cake?
In Christian religion, the three kings are to bear gifts to Jesus during the 12 days of Christmas. On the Twelfth Night (Epiphany day) it is tradition to bake a cake in honor of the Three Kings. Lost inside your king cake is a tiny little baby.
I always found this to be hilarious and thought it was the drunken humor of Mardi Gras that started this tradition. Not quite. This tradition dates way back, the baby once was made of porcelain and for the rich, gold. Today it’s made of plastic. Those that gained the slice with the hidden baby was in charge of throwing the next “king cake party.” This continued until Fat Tuesday.
Why do we wear masks?
Back in the day, it was common to wear a mask to break social constraints. A time to truly let loose and not bare judgment. Your class was not an issue during these celebrations because everyone’s look was similar.
Fun fact; by law, you cannot be on a float without a mask or you will be fined.
How do you win the beads and throws?
Let me first say that I did not see one nipple during the last two days of Mardi Gras. Not one! I’m sure they were popping out along Bourbon street, but this is not where we watched the parade. Baring your goods in order to win beads is not a tradition of this holiday, it’s simply those that decide to take it too far. Ladies, I promise waving your hands and hooting and hollering is all you need to win the prize.
Every float throws beads in all colors and sizes, this tradition dates back to the 1800’s. It is common that a float will have their token prize based on the theme of the organization running it. Some are hats, cups, crafted goods, and doubloons.
Doubloons are medallions that have imprinted the year and organization you caught it from.
These throws are caught day in and out. The city is truly littered in goodies. I couldn’t help myself trying so hard to get the attention for the token throw. In between floats, marching bands flood the street with song and dance. This is honestly some of the best parade celebrations I have ever experienced- 3 parades to be exact. I find parades dated. I grew up near the infamous NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade with its lavish floats and monstrous balloons, I’d think nothing would top that. But here, the elaborate decoration but simple construction, the music, and the sheer spirit in the air is impossible to trump. It’s a full city experience, all families are involved, BBQing on the streets, everyone in bright colors, eating and celebrating all day in honor of the tradition. I have never seen anything like it.
Fun fact: it’s a paid holiday for employees of Louisiana.
All businesses close early during this time of season. It’s something that is expected of you to take part in.
New Orleans, you are far more than what I ever knew of you and am excited to come back to celebrate this tradition earlier in the season.
Would you dare Mardi Gras? How about just New Orleans in general? We think you should.