There are plenty of traditions associated with the festive spirit of Mardi Gras. But by far, the most recognizable celebration is the one in The Big Easy.
New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras, and so too are the unique traditions the city has entertained over decades and even centuries.
So, let’s journey together and discover some of the most famous and interesting so that you know what to expect when you attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
📿 Traditions and Symbols
Bead Throwing Tradition
One of the most iconic traditions of Mardi Gras is the bead throwing. During the parades, float participants toss colorful beads, trinkets, and other “throws” to bystanders.
These beads hold a meaning that can be traced back to their origins. People love to collect them, and the more beads you catch, the more festive your day will be.
Mardi Gras Colors
The colors of Mardi Gras are purple 🟣, green 🟢, and gold 🟡, symbolizing justice (purple), faith (green), and power (gold).
These vibrant colors are prominently displayed on costumes, decorations, and, of course, the beads. Embracing the Mardi Gras colors will make you feel like a true reveler during this festive celebration.
A delicious Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake, which plays a significant role in celebrating the origins of Mardi Gras.
These cakes are typically round, covered in purple, green, and gold sugar, and contain a small plastic baby hidden inside.
Whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake is said to have good luck and is responsible for hosting the next King Cake party!
Costumes and Masks
Costumes and masks are essential elements of Mardi Gras celebrations. Wearing elaborate and colorful costumes allows attendees to let loose and embrace the spirit of the festival.
Masks, in particular, have a rich history in the rules of Mardi Gras, as they were initially worn to allow people to escape societal constraints and mingle with others freely. Today, masks continue to be a key component of this vibrant and lively event.
🍰 Cuisine in Mardi Gras
From savory dishes to mouthwatering sweets, the cuisine of Mardi Gras showcases the rich flavors of New Orleans. One iconic food you’ll come across during Mardi Gras is the King Cake.
This colorful dessert blends sweet dough, sugar, and cinnamon and is adorned with icing and sprinkles in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Remember to look for the hidden plastic baby inside the cake—it’s said that whoever finds it will have good luck!
Satisfying your savory cravings is easy with a steaming plate of jambalaya. This Creole dish is a flavorful mix of rice, vegetables, and various meats like chicken, sausage, and shrimp. The spices and seasonings in jambalaya make it a mouthwatering meal perfect for celebrating Fat Tuesday.
Another must-try Mardi Gras dish is the shrimp po’ boy. This classic New Orleans sandwich consists of crispy fried shrimp piled high on a soft French bread loaf and topped with lettuce, tomato, and a zesty sauce.
There’s nothing quite like biting into a warm, crunchy shrimp po’ boy to make you feel like you’re right in the heart of the celebration.
Don’t forget to indulge in some deep-fried goodness with beignets. These pillowy pastries are made from a square of dough fried to perfection and dusted with powdered sugar. They’re an irresistible treat best enjoyed with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
🎭 Carnival Season and Parade
Start of Carnival Season
The Carnival season kicks off on Twelfth Night and continues until Mardi Gras Day. This period is filled with numerous festivities, including vibrant parades showcasing the rich cultural history of the Crescent City.
Parade floats are a central part of Mardi Gras, showcasing the creativity and artistry of the city’s residents.
Krewes, the organizations responsible for the parades and their elaborate floats, work diligently to create visually stunning displays.
Some notable Krewes include Rex and Zulu. The floats often feature unique themes and dazzling adornments. Mardi Gras floats genuinely capture the fun and festive spirit of the celebration.
Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans
New Orleans is home to the most famous Mardi Gras parade, attracting huge crowds and a vibrant party atmosphere.
Krewes march through the streets, throwing distinctive items called doubloons to enthusiastic onlookers. Mobile, Ala, is another city that takes pride in hosting its Mardi Gras parades.
Mardi Gras Krewes also have a significant influence on the event, with Rex Organization setting the tone for many aspects of the celebration.
New Orleans and other cities like Mobile ensure this time of the year is festive, and the parades keep the tradition alive with their beautifully designed floats. So, mark your calendars and get ready to enjoy the season with all the passion and excitement it offers.
👑 Krewes and Social Clubs
Role of Krewes
These social organizations host balls, put on parades, and keep the traditions of Mardi Gras alive. So, what are their roles, and how do they play a part in the Mardi Gras celebrations?
First off, they are the backbone of Mardi Gras. Each is responsible for staging its annual parade, and its members often wear masks or face paint to conceal their identities during the procession.
The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was organized by the Mystick Krewe of Comus in 1857, setting the stage for future celebrations.
Today, various Krewes, like Rex and Zulu, have joined in the fun and brought their own unique flair to the festivities.
The Rex organization is one of the oldest and most prestigious krewes in New Orleans. They are considered the King of Carnival and play a significant role in the city’s Mardi Gras traditions.
Every year, they choose a member to serve as the Rex, or “King of Carnival,” who presides over the Rex parade and symbolizes the spirit of celebration and merriment.
Another well-known krewe is the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which represents African-American culture and has been part of Mardi Gras since 1909. The Zulu parade features a “King Zulu” and “Queen Zulu,” who reign over the parade and the ball.
Finally, Bacchus is another noteworthy Krewe, known for its celebrity “Bacchus” or king, bringing a touch of Hollywood glamour to the Mardi Gras festivities.