New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout Louisiana, including New Orleans. The celebrations take place for about two weeks before and through the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of lent in the Western Christian tradition. If the weather permits, there is typically a parade held every day, with many days having several major parades. The largest and most involved parades occur during the last five days of the Mardi Gras season. During the final week of Mardi Gras season, many events are held throughout the city of New Orleans and the surrounding communities, such as parades and masquerade balls.
Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are organized by social organizations referred to as krewes. Krewes tend to stick to the same parade schedule and route year after year. Some of the first krewes created were the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the Knights of Momus, Rex, and the Krewe of Proteus. Several modern krewes are well-known for holding grand parades and events. The Krewe of Endymion and the Krewe of Bacchus are known for naming celebrities as grand marshals or Kings for their parades. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club is a predominantly African American krewe. Float riders will toss throws, which are typically strings of colorful plastic beads, doubloons with krewe logos, plastic cups, Moon Pies, and cheap toys, into the crowds.
Major parades start in the Uptown and Mid-City districts in New Orleans and follow a route on the side of the French Quarter, along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street. Mardi Gras day generally ends with an event known as the “Meeting of the Courts” between the Rex and Comus krewes.
The first record a Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana was on March 2, 1699, at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the area now known as the lower Plaquemines Parish. The colonists celebrated Mardi Gras as a part of an observance of Catholic practice. The first Mardi Gras celebration in the city of New Orleans is unknown, but there is a 1730 account by Marc-Antione Caillot about celebrating with music, dance and costuming. A report for 1743 noted that the customs of Carnival balls and similar events were already established. In 1833, a wealthy plantation owner, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, raised money to fund an official celebration of Mardi Gras.
Six businessmen gathered in New Orleans’s French Quarter in 1856 to organize a secret society to celebrate Mardi Gras with a formal parade. These men ended up founding the first and oldest krewe in New Orleans, the Mystick Krewe of Comus.
Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a state holiday in 1875. While major parades have been canceled due to war, political, economic, and weather conditions, the city has always celebrated Carnival. Krewes in New Orleans now operate under a business structure where anyone can become a member and have a place on the parade float if they pay dues.