New Orleanians call it the
"Greatest Free Show on Earth."
Let me tell you why.
This post is a little bit late for 2017. But YOU NEED to bookmark this for NEXT YEAR or for NEXT FESTIVAL. Because MARDI GRAS in NEW ORLEANS is like no other! If you love food, colors, culture, and music, there's no other place to go. New Orleans is known for its incredible weave of everything. Bring your camera and whole bucket of fun vibes, and I promise you, it won't disappoint.
Why New Orleans? Because COOL and CREATIVE people build their empire here! There are places that are amazing only because they are aesthetically pretty and commercialized. I'm not saying the city is not pretty and commercialized BUT New Orleans is more than that. It will make you experience things; it will make you understand people in a revealing and colorful way. The attitude of locals here is just intense and you'll never get accustomed to their brand of humor and unique perspective.
1. You'll be stunned by its rich history and culture.
You know those people who barely talk at first and watch you like you're one of the bad guys? I am one of those people. Going to New Orleans, I expected to see an ordinary parade, you know, with prismatic floats and costumes, loud music and a lot of drunk people. OK, while some of these things are true, it is undeserving for NOLA to be treated like a gossip. First off, Mardi Gras is a Christian and historical event and is mainly targeted to family and deeply rooted tribes of the place. It may look like a wild ride to you (eating nonstop, getting drunk, excessive show off, and the like) for it to be a Christian parade but if you go back to its history, you'll be amazed on how it distinguishes itself as a celebration of freedom and unity.
Let's have a fast information exchange here first: According to historians, Mardi Gras also known as Fat Tuesday dates back thousands of years to pagan hullabaloo of spring and fertility. It is during that time when Christianity arrived in Rome that religious leaders decided to incorporate popular local traditions into the new faith. They thought, it is an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England. (source)
Now, you'll think HOW the heck did Mardi Gras end up in New Orleans?
It is quite simple actually. On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812.
How it came back was a pretty interesting story. On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city. Since then, krewes have remained a fixture of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake. (source)
Intricately crafted floats by Kern Studios
2. It's not just parade of colors. It is PEOPLE exhibit as well.
I must admit, it was knotty impression at first. I don't know if it's their accent or their language. They just talk funny and they know it. We were checking in when I heard a lady yelled outside the entrance saying something I couldn't understand. All I know was... I looked confused. I honestly thought she was speaking in European language or something. Wait, is that French? I saw the receptionist in my peripheral view---smiling, as if witnessing another common "tourist" bewilderment. I get it. Although this whole thing was new to me, to her, I'm just a temporary face in the crowd. The whole situation was a normal scene.
Again, this has something to do with their peculiar history. New Orleans is said to be the place where Africans, both slave and free, and American Indians shared their cultures and intermingled with European settlers. Encouraged by the French government, this strategy for producing a durable culture in a difficult place marked New Orleans as different and special from its inception and continues to distinguish this city today.
When we were looking for parking (God knows we had a really difficult time looking for one BUT IT IS WORTH the struggle!), I was surprised to see such a melange of people tirelessly walking around, wearing shiny beads and eye candy costumes. They were everywhere! The streets were filled with laughter and music. Some people opted to eat their festive food at the comfort of their balcony while others savored finger food offered by stalls along the sidewalks. I love how the community is so involved with the parade. From local dancers and musicians to their families and friends cheering for them.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is for all age groups, too! You will see young children in their splashy face paints and glittery hairs. And don't even think for a second that old people are going to miss the fun because most of them rocked their costumes like a boss!
3. No matter where you are in the world, whoever you are, whatever your trip in life is, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE!
If you're going to New Orleans to witness Mardi Gras, you're in for a PARTY you'll never forget. Carnival in New Orleans is something that needs to be truly experienced. I tell you, ogling at photos isn't enough! THE VIBE IS JUST INTENSE! Oh wait, did I mention IT IS LEGAL here to drink outdoors? Only in Louisiana! How cool is that? But I need to warn you on this- IT IS A MARATHON, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself when drinking. It gets pretty humid in summer; it's better to have water in hand. Party goers, put New Orleans Mardi Gras in your bucketlist! You sure are gonna thank me after.
Free stuff flying in the air, dancing drummers, and elaborate performances? KIDS love Mardi Gras! And yes, there are children in the streets. It's one of the common misconceptions that Mardi Gras is like an adult celebration. IT IS NOT! For most locals, it is a family tradition. Many of these children arrive with their families and a Mardi Gras ladder, which is a contraption that is essentially a wooden seat nailed to a stepladder, so that the kiddies can see over parade-goers and hopefully catch some cool stuff. Be sure to watch out for these tiny humans when aiming for your beads. Many unfortunate paws have been stomped in the process. Same tip applies to you. Don't say I didn't warn yah.
You love music? For the record, you'll be in the most musical city on earth! Who ever thought of a party without catchy music? You're right, no one. Here, grannies dance. Kids dance. Store owners dance. Police officers dance. When you go to see a show in NOLA, feel free to move and not just stand there like a terrified corpse. Be one with the crowd, and you'll see yourself in a better hue. There's something about the event that speaks to your soul. Whenever you look around, you feel the city's soul. It is alive. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is unbelievably breathtaking.
Definitely one for the books!
Photos taken during Mardi Gras in New Orleans
"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans." — Mark Twain