New Orleans Mardi Gras – The Party That Put New Orleans on the Map!

New Orleans Mardi Gras is the biggest and best party in the United States. It is full of parades, parties and 600 years of tradition.

6th January 2020

25thFebruary 2020

Days to start

Mardi Gras is the celebration that made New Orleans famous. New Orleans is a party town that doesn’t stop celebrating from Halloween right up until Lent. Houses in the city are decorated for half a year with giant pumpkins, Christmas and then Mardi Gras decorations.

New Orleans Mardi Gras is a crazy colourful celebration that tops any other event in the USA by miles. New Orleans is already a vibrant place, but this increases tenfold during carnival with loads of parades, parties, dances, gifts and non-stop mayhem and merrymaking that everyone in the city is a part of.

Whilst Mardi Gras is celebrated in several other major cities in in Southern USA like Alabama, Mobile, St. Louis and Mississippi. None of these cities comes close to the sheer carnival grandeur and merrymaking that is seen in New Orleans. New Orleans is one of the most famous celebrations in the world and attracts thousands from all over.

▷ What is Mardi Gras?

New Orleans is home to the most famous Mardi Gras in the world! What is Mardi Gras? How to explain one of the world’s biggest party. Mardi Gras is a season long party period where millions of people around the world take part in some sort of public celebration which is usually a street party or parade.

It Is associated with the Catholic tradition of celebration before the onset of Lent. Mardi Gras is a Catholic term that is the name for the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. 

What does Mardi Gras mean? Mardi Gras is the French word for Fat Tuesday, meaning the last chance to each rich food before Lent starts. Carnival is a festival of debauchery and gluttony, and Fat Tuesday was the last chance to ‘fatten up’ before Lent, which is 40 days of sacrifice and fasting before Easter.

Is Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras the same day? Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Pancake Tuesday are all different names for the same day. It just depends on which country you are in, as different countries use different names.

▷ New Orleans Mardi Gras is more than just a day!

New orleans mardi gras

The name Mardi Gras is misleading, because like Christmas, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is more than just one day. It is a whole season, a month or so of parties that leads up to Mardi Gras Day. A day that is an insane culmination of carnival season that’s full of parades, parties, music, dancing, feasting, self-expression and lots of alcohol.

No one does Carnival quite like New Orleans. Starting on the Twelfth night, January 6, New Orleans Mardi Gras season kicks off with an exclusive masquerade ball. The carnival season is filled with parades, costuming, drinking, eating and merrymaking that grows more intense as Lent nears.

How long does Mardi Gras last? Celebrations are concentrated for about two weeks before and the day of Mardi Gras.

▷ When is Mardi Gras New Orleans 2020?

When is Mardi Gras? The thing about Mardi Gras is that it is unpredictable! Right down to its date! Unlike Christmas the only predictable thing about Mardi Gras is that it will always land on a Tuesday and that is because just like Easter the date depends on the moon.

Easter is always on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. So easy-peasy to remember right! Just kidding, just remember that Mardi Gras is always 41 days before Easter Sunday. It can be as early as the 3rd February or as late as the 9th March.

Mardi Gras New Orleans 2020 will take place on Tuesday, 25th February. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Season officially begins on the feast of the Epiphany which is January 6th or the twelfth day of Christmas. This day is famous in the Catholic religion for symbolising when the wise men visited Jesus. New Orleans officially culminates at midnight on Mardi Gras Day as Lent officially begins on Ash Wednesday.

▷ What is the History of Mardi Gras?

What is the history of Mardi Gras? What is the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Well Mardi Gras origins trace back to Europe. It was the French that brought Mardi Gras to their colonies in Louisiana at the turn of the 17th century.

The first official US Mardi Gras occurred in Mobile in 1703,  and arrived in New Orleans shortly after its founding in 1718. About a century later New Orleans Mardi Gras had established krewes, street parades, a carnival King and had begun the tradition of throwing colourful beads to the crowd.

▷ Krewes

new orleans mardi gras carnival

If you’ve ever been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras and wondered who are the people that ride the floats. They are the members of Krewes. Krewes are the heart and soul of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and an important part of a tradition that is old as the New Orleans Mardi Gras itself. Krewes date back to early days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the 1800s.

Krewes are private non-profit social clubs who are responsible for organising all the official New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. All 70+ parades that occurs during Mardi Gras and masquerade balls and parties, are organised and funded by the Krewes.

Today, New Orleans Mardi Gras has dozens of Krewes each with their own traditions. What binds them generally is that each Krewe must host a parade with floats, and a ball. Most importantly they must make the New Orleans Mardi Gras their number one priority and motivation.

▷ Rex Krewe – The King of Mardi Gras

The Krewe of Rex is the oldest, and still plays a major role in Mardi Gras celebrations to this day. Rex was funded by wealthy prominent citizens of New Orleans back in 1872. The King of Rex becomes the official King of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Interestingly Rex is Latin for King.

The Rex Parade is an annual attraction of New Orleans Mardi Gras and is considered a centrepiece of the carnival because of the Krewe’s rich and colorful themes, their original costumes and elaborately hand-decorated and hand-painted floats. 

Rex Krewe are responsible for most of the original Mardi Gras traditions, including the official colors, as well as the collectible doubloon coins (introduced by Rex in 1960).

▷ Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras Indians are another unique New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. These New Orleans Tribes were formed by the African American communities in the mid-1880s. Who in the earlier years were excluded from the celebrations and used to have their own celebrations mocking the krewe royalty.

The African American Krewes decided to honour the native Indian tribes who used to help shield runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indian Krewes dress in elaborate feathered costumes to honour the native Americans.

There are over 50 Indian tribes in New Orleans who each have their own chief and hierarchy. The Indians grace the streets of New Orleans in a friendly competition over which chief is the prettiest. The tribes have names like the Golden Eagles, Flaming Arrows, the Yellow Pocahontas etc.

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▷ Super Krewes

The Super Krewe floats are often are much bigger and more modern and mechanical then the traditional parades. The Super Krewes also throw wild parties immediately after their parades instead of throwing a ball. Super Krewes will also feature celebrity carnival kings.

The Super Krewe Parades start the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day and begin with Super Krewe Endymion putting on a huge parade. The following night features another huge parade from Super Krewe Bacchus.

▷ The Zulu Krewe

While the Rex Krewe’s is considered carnival royalty and often called the official King of Mardi Gras. There is actually another Krewe that is considered carnival royalty and that is the Zulu Krewe.

The Zulu Krewe were created in 1916 and was the first Krewe dedicated solely to the African American population of New Orleans.

Prior to this the African-American community found that they were not allowed to join the predominantly white-only Krewes. The Zulu Krewe changed all that and finally provided an opportunity for the African American population participate in Mardi Gras.

▷ Krewe Membership

Most Krewes are open to the public and offer open membership. Several Krewes are from various organisations like the firefighters, teachers etc. But some of the Krewes are highly exclusive and secretive. These secret societies have been part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans since day one.

The majority of Krewes charge a yearly membership fee and require their members to participate in fundraisers and other events to raise money. All the money these Krewes raises, goes into the construction of floats, costumes and purchase of throws.

▷ Mardi Gras Parades

new orleans mardi gras carnival

In the lead up to New Orleans Mardi Gras about 70 parades roll through the Greater New Orleans area. Over 2000 Mardi Gras Parades have been held in New Orleans since 1857.

Each of the parades has band members, dance groups, clowns, floats, motorcycles, and thousands of participants. Each Krewe will select a theme and then create their parade around that theme through music choice, float decoration, tailored costumes etc.

Mardi Gras Parade themes have generally been taken from legends, geography, myths, stories or history. Some of the most popular parades are famous for their satire and social and political commentary. The parades by the Super Krewes are much larger in size.

Almost all the Mardi Gras Parades travel down St. Charles Avenue not to many parades actually go down the French Quarter due to its narrow streets.

▷ Mardi Gras Beads

What’s with the Mardi Gras beads? If you’re a spectator, be prepared to be showered with items One thing all Mardi Gras Parades have in common are that the Krewe riders will throw trinkets to the crowd. The most famous throw is of course the Mardi Gras beads.

Krewe members throw items ranging from colourful Mardi Gras beads, doubloons, toys, plastic cups and more. This was done to symbolise the rich sharing their wealth. The Zulu Krewe throws coconuts which are considered to be the highest prize thrown in New Orleans Mardi Gras.

▷ King Cakes

New Orleans Mardi Gras is full of lots of time-honoured traditions like the King Cake. The New Orleans King Cakes comes from their French counterparts. The King Cakes are decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar icing.

Hidden inside every King Cake is a tiny plastic baby. When the King Cake is cut up whoever receives the piece with the baby must throw the next party. New Orleans sells over 500,000 king cakes and another 50,000 King Cakes are shipped outside New Orleans.

▷ What are the Mardi Gras Colors?

One look at the topping of the King Cake and you see that the New Orleans Mardi Gras colours are purple which symbolises justice, gold which symbolises power and green which symbolises faith.

These colours where chosen by the Rex Krewe back in 1872 to honour the Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov who visited New Orleans to celebrate carnival and the local people of New Orleans were required to display these colors.

▷ The Best Mardi Gras Parades

There are more than 70 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades held on different days during the New Orleans Mardi Gras Season. The Rex and Zulu Parades held on Mardi Gras day are two of the most popular parades that one must see when attending New Orleans Mardi Gras. 

Krewe du Vieux Parade is a very popular parade that is very satirical and political in nature, and features elaborate floats. Endymian is hugely popular parade from one of the biggest ‘super krewes’ that must be seen. 

Krewe of St. Anne & Krewe of Julu Parades, are two wacky parades full of wild characters in weird costumes. The Krewe of Muses throws hand-designed glittery shoes of all shapes and styles to delight of the crowd.

Why not check out some of the awesome all-girl krewe parades like the Cameltoe, Lady Steppers, Pussyfooters and the Sirens, who are always famous for incredible costumes and dance moves.

There are plenty of small and quirky parades that are worth attending like ‘tit Rəx which features mini-floats that are hand pulled. Then there is the Krewe of Barkus that features marching dogs. Also there is a sci-fi theme parade by Krewe of Chewbacchus.

▷ Zulu Parade & Rex Parade

new orleans mardi gras

On the official Mardi Gras day is the peak of celebrations and features two of the most popular parades the Zulu and Rex Parade. Starting with the Zulu Parade which began as a satirical parade that poked fun at the early white-only krewes.

The Zulu Parade is famous for their “Mardi Gras Throws”. Every year Zulu riders loads hundreds of hand decorated coconuts onto their float. The Zulu Coconut is the coveted Mardi Gras throw that everyone wants.

Following the Zulu parade is the Rex Parade which has over 600 male riders parade down the French quarter of New Orleans. The Rex Parade is the highlight of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and has been ever since it first began.

The Rex Parade features the most elegant designs and amazing wooden wagons floats that are still built the traditional way  They also have a long tradition of selecting amazing themes.

▷ Mardi Gras Indian Parade

Mardi Gras Day is also when the Mardi Gras Indians Parade. The parade attracts crowds of thousands who follow the different tribes parade through their respective neighborhoods. Eventually all the tribes meet up with each other for “battle”.

Mardi Gras Indians tribes wear the most amazing elaborate hand-made feathered costumes and colourful beads inspired from traditional Native American clothing. The tribes battle with each other through showing off their costumes. As well as performing songs and threatening dances.

▷ Mardi Gras Balls and Parties

Every year more than a hundred Carnival Balls are held in New Orleans. The majority of balls are invitation-only, however a select through are open to the public.  Mardi Gras balls have been around since Louisiana was a French colony and originally were exclusive events that could only be attended by New Orleans high-society.

High-society balls are very aristocratic. There is no such thing as a ticket and if you’re not a member you can’t attend. These balls are full of rituals and traditions. Debutantes are also introduced to society during the ball.

Super Krewe Balls were also created so that all members of society could attend a Mardi Gras Balls. The three super krewes known to put on the best balls are Bacchus, Orpheus, and Endymion. The Krewe of Endymion hosts their ball after the parade and feature celebrity performers and tens of thousands in attendance.

▷ New Orleans Mardi Gras for the Family

Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras is family-friendly event that is full of family picnics and BBQs. Children come out to watch the parades and float riders have plenty of toys and stuffed animals to hand out to the kids.

▷ How to dress for Mardi Gras?

Fun Mardi Gras fact is that in New Orleans it is a law that all parade participants who ride a float must wear a mask or they are breaking the law. This Mardi Gras tradition was created to allow people to escape their social class and mingle with whoever they want.

If you are wondering what kind of Mardi Gras outfit should I wear? On Mardi Gras Day a costume is a must and anything goes. It can be comical or whimsical doesn’t matter but if you don’t dress up then you will look out of place.

If you are attending one of the Mardi Gras Balls then you should dress up for the event as most have a fancy-dress requirement. Also make a note that it is still pretty cold in New Orleans during Mardi Gras so dress warm.

▷ French Quarters or Vieux Carré

new orleans mardi gras carnival

The French Quarters is charming historic section of New Orleans. This is where most of the Mardi Gras action will be held particularly on Bourbon Street. The neighbourhood has beautiful European architecture and the buildings feature coloful exteriors.

The more traditional parades march through here. If you’re lucky you may even get invited to watch the action from above on some of the balconies that run along Bourbon Street. 

▷ It All Ends at Midnight

Yes just like Cinderella the fun ends at exactly midnight! As the clock strikes twelve all the celebrating finishes. This is because Midnight is the official start of Lent. But don’t worry because you will probably be ready for bed after the full day of craziness that engulfs New Orleans on Mardi Gras!

▷ Where to stay?

Check out some accomodation options here.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

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