MARDI GRAS DAY IS TUESDAY, February 25, 2020!

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Mardi Gras, Past and Present

More than 200 years ago, a group of prominent New Orleans businessmen gathered together to form an organization that would welcome the Grand Duke Alex Romanoff Alexandrovitch to the city during the annual Mardi Gras festivities, begun more than a century earlier. That event, and the parade and ball that were established, formed what is now known as the Rex organization and the heartbeat of Mardi Gras. Today, there are hundreds of Mardi Gras clubs (called Krewes) that host grand balls and several dozen krewes that conduct elaborate, colorful, and at times outrageous, parades through the streets of the city. In fact, it is hard imagine this city without the annual spring celebration.

Locals and visitors alike get into the spirit and the Mardi Gras revelry is legendary. While Mardi Gras Day is the biggest celebration, the season actually begins on Twelfth Night, January 6. However, the two weeks prior to the event are a frenzy of activity and a bow to the many traditions that have remained intact throughout the centuries.

Visitors are welcome at any parade. The most family-friendly areas are along the magnificent oak tree lined St. Charles Avenue. Here locals and visitors greet the colorful parades with custom designed floats made of sparkling papier-mache. Marching bands from colleges, high schools, and military units from throughout the United States provide a rhythm and sound unmatched by any other parades in this country.

The streets of the French Quarter are a bit bawdier and more crowded. Here strollers are free to walk down the streets with alcoholic beverages in plastic cups, and there is no limit on the imagination of costume design. Let's just say that many people on the streets take a "less is more" attitude.

Riders on these lavish floats are local citizens who belong to the sponsoring krewes and toss "throws" to passersby. The most coveted "throws" include doubloons (metal coins embossed with the names of the krewes), beads, plastic cups, stuffed toys, Moon Pies and even panties.


  • 1) Always travel using the Buddy System and do not stray from main areas.
  • 2) Refrain from wearing expensive jewelry and carry only a minimal amount of money.
  • 3) You should stay close to your hotel if intoxicated and monitor what you drink.
  • 4) Plain clothes and uniformed officers posted citywide to Ensure Safety and monitor crowd control.
  • 5) Throwing objects from balconies or out of windows is illegal.


  • 1) Don't bring your boyfriend ;) - Marge, TX
  • 2) Do NOT get arrested (for any reason) during Mardi Gras, the courts are closed during Mardi Gras! - Mark, MA
  • 3) Bring hand sanitizer or baby wipes with you! - Carol, FL
  • 4) Negotiate for beads. Be a bead lawyer, not a bead sxxt! - Miki, AL
  • 5) Bring 2 pairs of shoes, one to wear home, the other to throw away. - Chad, LA
  • 6) Dress in layers, the weather is unpredictable. - Mona, IL
  • 7) Glass or cans will get you in trouble, but you can go anywhere in the city with a plastic cup. - Bart, CA
  • 8) Finding a restroom, no matter how difficult, could be the difference between party time and jail time. - Cindee, TX
  • 9) If you meet more then one man, dont have them meet you at the same bar at the same time! - Myst, CANADA
  • 10) Don't ask a friend to go who is fresh out of rehab! - Jack, NY

    Attention Experienced Mardi Gras Goers, give us your best Mardi Gras tip here.

  • Balls are opulent, formal affairs, each with its own king, queen and royal court. Guests are included by invitation only. A coveted invitation is usually sent to a guest without mention of the name of the member who invites him or her as secrecy is respected as part of the tradition.

    For those interested in the historic aspects of Mardi Gras, there are two permanent exhibitions that should be put on their "must see" list:

    "Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana" is found at the Presbytere, 751 Chartres Street in the historic French Quarter. There are two floors of high-tech, interactive exhibitions that trace the history, culture and traditions that surround this annual rite of passage in New Orleans and south Louisiana. Here the visitor finds exquisite costumes (from the beaded gowns of ball Queens to the bold headdresses of the Mardi Gras Indians), antique ball invitations, crowns, scepters and jewels worn by royalty. The exhibition bedazzles and educates!

    "Mardi Gras World" is located a short (free) ferry ride across the Mississippi River at 233 Newton St. at Algiers Point. Here, Blaine Kern, the city's best-known float designer and builder has 500,000 square feet that showcases float designing and building. Blaine Kern, the largest float-building company in the world, provides a stunning year-round glimpse at the intricate process of building these floats.

    Because the whole motive of Mardi Gras is to enjoy life's excesses before the beginning of the Lenten season, food is a major part of the celebration. Local fare includes plenty of traditional Creole foods of jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp Creole, red beans and rice. These foods are available at local restaurants year round, and form the basis for the local culinary experience of the city.

    One Mardi Gras delicacy is the King Cake, a rich pastry that is decorated with a sugary icing in the Mardi Gras Colors of purple, green, and gold. Each cake contains one small plastic baby, and the person who finds the baby in his or her piece must host the next party. It's just another quirky tradition of the season.

    Mardi Gras - The Greatest Free Show on Earth

    It has been called “the greatest free show on earth” and no one who has experienced it will dispute that claim. If you haven’t experienced it, you need to. No lifetime could ever be complete without coming to New Orleans at least once during Carnival Season and experiencing Mardi Gras firsthand.

    The big day – loosely translated as “Fat Tuesday” in French – comes on February 21, 2012. On that day a continuous cavalcade of colorful and imaginative floats roll through the streets of uptown and downtown New Orleans. Starting at 8:30 that morning, the Krewe of Zulu begins rolling up St. Charles Avenue through the Garden District and the Central Business District, featuring some of the most fabulous floats you’ll ever see anywhere, and some of the most outrageously funny characters on their title floats.

    The Rex parade rolls out right after Zulu, carrying the mythical King of Carnival on his regal “Throne Float,” attended by pages and other “royalty.” Following Rex are the 200-plus truck floats that roll continuously almost till dusk. With all this activity going on, you are guaranteed a full day of fun festivities like you’ve never seen before!

    Mardi Gras is for all ages: from babies in strollers to youthful seniors in their 80s and 90s scrambling for beads along with the younger crowd. There is no experience in the world that can compare with waving your arms in the air and catching beads, plastic cups, and other trinkets thrown from the passing floats, and cheering on the amazingly talented high school marching bands and flambeauxs (flame carriers). Whether you choose to set up your chairs, ladders and blankets along the grassy streetcar tracks on St. Charles Avenue, line up along the downtown streets or reserve your place in one of the numerous grandstands along the route, you are in for an exciting time.

    Carnival or Mardi Gras?
    There is often confusion between the two terms associated with the festivities that culminate on Fat Tuesday. “Carnival” describes the period of time between Twelfth Night, which is always January 6, and Fat Tuesday, which falls on a different day each year, depending on when Easter occurs. “Mardi Gras” describes just the single day: Fat Tuesday, which always falls 45 days before Easter. The following day, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Lenten season of fasting that precedes Easter. The Fat Tuesday tradition originated when people made a habit of gorging themselves with food before making the culinary sacrifices prescribed by the Catholic Church during Lent.

    Heralding the Carnival Season every year are the Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP), a parading group that rides aboard a St. Charles Avenue streetcar. Masked krewe members throw beads and other trinkets to crowds gathered along the streetcar line between Uptown and Canal Street, the heart of the Central Business District. The PPP parade is always on the evening of Twelfth Night which, in years past, marked the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

    The krewe, which originally paraded from 1878 through 1898, was revived in 1981, and has kicked off every Carnival Season since. You can catch the Phunny Phorty Phellows streetcar parade anywhere along the route on Tuesday, January 6 and, like all other Carnival parades, the viewing is FREE!

    St. Joan of Arc Parade Joining the Phunny Phorty Phellows in celebrating the start of the Carnival Season on Twelfth Night is the annual St. Joan of Arc Parade sponsored by the French Quarter Business Association. Started in 2008 to help raise awareness of the patron saint of the French founders of New Orleans, the parade is already on its way to becoming a seasonal tradition.

    Coincidentally, St. Joan of Arc’s birthday falls on Twelfth Night, so the date of the parade and celebration was fittingly chosen. The relatively short procession begins at 6 p.m. at the John Scott sculpture, “Ocean Song,” in Woldenberg Riverfront Park (Decatur and Conti streets), and continues up Decatur Street to the bronze statue of St. Joan of Arc at St. Philip Street and Decatur.

    Participation in the parade is free and open to all. Participants must arrive at the sculpture by 5 p.m. and are asked to bring cake, presents or flowers to share at the St. Joan statue. Throws will generally be religion- or birthday-themed, including hand-painted St. Joan medallions created by Rob Clemenz of For more information log on to

    Mardi Gras For Families

    Keep in mind that most parades are held the two weeks before Mardi Gras Day. Check the parade schedule on this site for a full list and you will find that there are many days that host several parades with different routes. When attending parades remember the following:

    1. Safety first

    Arrive early and get the kids acclimated to the crowds around them. It's easy for children to get lost in a crowd, so write your last name and phone number on the child's clothing (some New Orleans parents write their cell or home phone numbers on the child's arm with an indelible pen). Designate a location to meet in case the family is separated. Instruct your children to go to the police if they forget the designated location. Teach your children about float safety, and keep them away from floats and marching bands and they travel down the street!

    2. Bring supplies

    Pack snacks, extra toiletries and a cell phone. Some restaurants are open on Mardi Gras day, but it's recommended you pack a picnic basket just in case. Don't forget an umbrella, if clouds loom. Some parades get stalled along the route, and the event lasts longer than anticipated. Locate a public bathroom ahead of time.

    3. Dress comfortably

    Mardi Gras isn't a fashion show, although it's a good time to strut your stuff. Wear tennis shoes (preferably water-proof and thick soled for walks to and from the car and up and down the parade route) and jeans but costumes of any kind are preferred! Check the weather forecast. Weather can change quickly in New Orleans, so you might want to layer your clothes.

    4. Stay on the traditional parade route

    Kids don't belong in the French Quarter or on Canal Street during Mardi Gras. So take the family to St. Charles Avenue between First Street and Napoleon Avenue. Here the parade goers are all families. Many bring their ladders, with kiddie seats attached to the top. The atmosphere is good, clean family fun.

    5. Enjoy the traditions

    Catching beads and doubloons from floats is a wonderful experience. But also introduce the family to the traditions of King Cake, masking, and music. Take time to visit the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas, the Louisiana Children's Museum, Storyland at City Park and take a ride on the St. Charles Avenue or Canal Streetcar. Mardi Gras is just the beginning of a wonderful family vacation in New Orleans!

    6. Make this a learning experience

    There's more to Mardi Gras than the parades. Take the children to the Louisiana State Museum's magnificent exhibit, " Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana" and explore two floors of Mardi Gras history. Visit Mardi Gras World (just across the river from downtown New Orleans) and show them how floats are designed and made. Buy books and cds that tell the history of Mardi Gras. One excellent booklet is "Come to the Mardi Gras New Orleans Style" by Ruth Bilbe and Naomi Kornman, two former grade school teachers from New Orleans.

    To order "Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time New Orleans Style" send $2.50 (Includes shipping and handling) to:

    Mardi Gras Booklet
    T.I.N.S Press
    44 Versailles Boulevard
    New Orleans, Louisiana 70125

    Note: This story was written by New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. For more information about all the fun things to see, do and eat while in New Orleans, visit, the official tourism website for the city. Be sure to get a Good Times Guide with information about New Orleans, coupons, attractions and restaurants. New Orleans: Happenin' Every Day!

    Future Mardi Gras dates include:

  • 2021 - Feb. 16
  • 2022 - March 1
  • 2023 - Feb. 21
  • 2024 - Feb. 13
  • 2025 - March 4
  • 2026 - Feb. 17
  • 2027 - Feb. 9

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