28 February 2011

what's with all that purple, gold, and green?

Several weeks ago, I began to write a post about tradition and culture surrounding Mardi Gras and quickly realized that I would be unable to do a good job of limiting the scope. So, instead, I've created a list that tells some parts of the story because, let's face it, there are no limits to list making (and no pesky rules of organization, either.)

And so I offer you this longer than long post to visit and revisit over the month of March . . . that's right, I'm taking a self-imposed blogging break . . . See you in April, maybe.

And, yeah, I know it's not exactly about life in Italy . . . but I never really promised that's all you'll find here.

1. Flashing naked body parts is not really a Mardi Gras tradition. Really. It's not. It's for the tourists and maybe a local intoxicated co-ed or two.

2. With that out of the way, I have to tell you, Mardi Gras is a family affair. I have memories as far back as memories go of being at Mardi Gras with my family. It's as much a part of our tradition as is Mother's Day or Thanksgiving. We aren't even from the city.

Clown family
It's a Family Affair
Flickr Source

3. Generally, parades are planned by Mardi Gras krewes or social clubs who work all year long.  While membership in some krewes (organizations)  is open to all, many are exclusive, private organizations where membership is by invitation only. It is a very elitest, high society affair in some cases. "Old money" runs deep in New Orleans. On the other hand, less exclusive groups do exist, giving everyone a chance to participate.  Some groups fundraise year round to pay for the one big day. Other groups have an element of philanthropy and service. There is one group that convenes on the day of the parade, only. There are even krewes that are highly secretive and do not reveal membership publically.

4. Krewes often traditionally take names from the Greeks and Romans:  Rex, Bacchus, Endymion, Proteus, and so forth. A list of some krewes.  The Mystic Krewe of Comus is the oldest krewe; it dates back to 1856.

4. In 1993, New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr. founded a new krewe, Orpheus, with the aim to create an organization open to all genders, races, and ethnicities. (Remember, this is the greatest free show on earth . . . with participants footing the bill.)  It's huge, compared to some of the other krewes. This ball is one open to the public, with tickets available on the website to the public for $135 each this year.  If you ever have a chance, GO to one of these balls as this is as much a part of Mardi Gras as the floats and throws.

5. A "throw" is anything you might catch from a float rider -- beads, dubloons, cups, stuffed animals, silk flowers, etc. Back in the day, some of the beads were individually strung glass Czech beads, now it's plastic from China. Some Krewes do have signature throws. Check out the throws from this year's Krewe of Muses, an all female group. (Cool, no? If you think so, read the story of the shoe throws.)

6. Grand balls with much pomp and circumstance take place during the season, often including debutante "coming out" events. These balls even reach down to the elementary schools where the balls are used as profitable fundraising events, sans parade.

7. Elementary schools across LA also celebrate the holiday with decorated wagon parades and shoe box float decorating contests.  I'm not certain, but I bet that this is one holiday that is still celebrated in the schools the same way it was years ago.

It's Mardi Gras time!
Shoe Box Mardi Gras Float
Flickr Source

8. Rex is the King of Carnival. Yes, we call it "carnival."

The Title of the King
King of Carnival, Rex
Flickr Source

9. Much of Mardi Gras does not take place in the French Quarter. Most people I know would not dare venture there at night after a parade. I did a few times (as a co-ed) and likely never will again. It's insane and probably dangerous. Go Uptown, instead.

Mardi Gras Crowds
Uptown Parade
Flickr Source

10. We love the high school marching bands equally: the good, the bad, and the ugly. A parade is not a parade without a marching band. This is also true for the often long-anticipated police car that comes before the parade. Oh, the excitement!

Mardi Gras - 2010
High School Marching Band
Flickr Source

11. People have been known to camp out along the route to ensure a good spot. It is also common to cook-out along the route with groups of friends or, of course, to bring your cooler full of food and drinks. Popeyes gets a lot of Mardi Gras business. If you are fortunate, you have a contact along the route and are invited into their home, at least just to potty.

12. People with young children bring tricked out ladders for the kiddos to have a safe place and clear view. Better to have them up high than risk having them under a float tire.

St Charles Av before the Iris Mardi Gras Parade
Annoying, but Safe,  Mardi Gras Ladders
Flickr Source

13. There is no open container law in NOLA. (Or so it seems!)

14. The season starts on 3 Kings Day, January 6, and goes until the day before Ash Wednesday. Parades roll with more frequency as Mardi Gras Day approaches, even on school nights. Ahem. The public party ends at midnight on Mardi Gras, when the NOPD clears the streets.

15.  Pay attention, there is lots of political satire associated with the event. You will see it more prevelant with some krewes, but you'll also see it among the locals. You might imagine what it was like the first Mardi Gras after Katrina.

17. Mardi Gras is not limited to New Orleans. Huge events take place in the burbs, even on Mardi Gras Day, and parades roll across the state during the season. There's even a unique Mardi Gras tradition in Cajun Country.

2010 Tee-Mamou Mardi Gras Feb 16 (32 of 24)
Revelers in Cajun Country Chase Chickens
Flickr Source

18. Schools close for two to five days, depending. (Young One's school in Vicenza is closed for three days.)

19.  We eat King Cakes all season long. Likely, the tradition is from France. Finding the baby does not make you "King for the Day." It means you have to buy the next cake! Cakes are commonly found in bakeries and supermarkets with bakeries throughout South LA.

King Cake 2
My Very Own King Cake

20. Purple - justice;  gold - power;   green - faith.  (Though, there is debate about this.)

So much, and I haven't even touched on Flambeaux carriers, or Mardi Gras Indians, or Lundi Gras activities, or  Mardi Gras World, or Pete Fountain's Half Fast Walking Club, or the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club , or truck floats . . . and so much, much more that makes Mardi Gras.

I mean, I haven't even mentioned the famous "Mardi Gras Ordinance" --  New Orleans City Council Member Dorothy Mae Taylor's attempt to intergrate the private clubs in 1992. You can imagine how well that went over with with some people.  Check it out on NPR.

Flambeaux-New Orleans Mardi Gras-Beginning of Parade
Flickr Source

Pete Fountain


But I feel satisfied that if you've read down to here, that you just might believe me when I tell you it's not all about beer, beads, and boobies.
Of courses, the presence of a bit of debauchery is undeniable.
 Hey, it's Louisiana.
And I love it.

Need more?  Check out this great site, where you can watch web cams, get recipes, and even find apps for your iPhone.


To close this post. . . .
From Phil Johnson's Carnival Editorial:

It's that time again: that wonderful, crazy, colorful, crowded, happy, mixed-up but glorious time when all New Orleans forgets itself for a day, lets its hair down, puts on a rubber nose, a funny hat, and walks around laughing at the silly people in their crazy costumes.
It's a day for contrasts…a day for change.
A day when legions of quiet, timid, introspective little men forsake their cashier's windows and their neat clerk’s desks, put masks across their faces, and suddenly become Don Juan.
A day when a secretary can become Queen of England…a housewife, Annie Oakley.
Mardi Gras is fantasy in a fright wig, reality with a burnt cork on its nose, a dream with a scepter in its hand, and pompousness about to be punctured.
Mardi Gras is fun and laughter, vulgarity and coarseness, color and light, and at the end, quiet.
Mardi Gras is a state of mind, an attitude, a pose, an opinion. But at its most basic…and perhaps satisfying of all, Mardi Gras is the one day in the entire year when New Orleans can tell the world:
"We're going to have fun!" And we do.


  1. Ok, I admit I didn't read all of it... I just wanted to let you know I just booked Spring Break in NOLA! The other moms looked at me as if they were about to speed dial CPS..."well, that's not where I'd take my kids.." they so kindly offered. I started laughing and saying I couldn't imagine a more perfectly family friend place in the world, unless I was in Southern Italy!

  2. WOW! Great post, love all the history and background stories. Enjoy your time away from Blog world!

  3. I promise, I never thought it was all about beers, beads and boobs (that would be in arcore).

  4. This was an absolutely wonderful post! It really captures everything that is and ISN'T mardi gras!

  5. Karen -- certainly understand that! I hope you'll make Jazz Fest ?? What does those women know? Please!!

    Natalia -- thanks, I need a break.

    Franci -- are you sure? (Did you really ever have an opinion of it? I think you are unbiased bc you don't watch TV.)

    NOLA girl -- hope the parade went well for you!!

  6. definitely something i'd like to see someday! i've actually never been in the south, unless you count the florida keys, which i don't. though i guess they are in the south, so i don't know why i don't count them. anyway, have a nice blog break! will miss you!

    btw--i was just searching amazon for some storage jars and guess what i came across: quattro stagioni jars! how cool is that? it's taking a lot of restraint not to buy them NOW. :)

  7. My children are going to celebrate Carnival this weekend at German school. My littlest is so excited to dress up.

  8. Emily -- those jars are the best. I use them in so many ways now.

    Kelleyn-- My girl has a party in her class on Friday as well. How exciting for them!

  9. ciao - loved your post. mardi gras in NOLA is on my life list. i have done Jazz Fest there years ago (still a fave memory). we look forward to returning there. have you checked out the Treme series from Showtime? my little man LOVES the soundtrack. we listen to it over and over. :)

  10. I miss the Jazz Fest just as much. We have plans to get to Mardi Gras next year when it falls on the three-day weekend. I'm already excited about it! I've heard about Treme but haven't had time to watch it -- too busy with Swamp People. lol!

    I just might make a king cake this weekend!

  11. I've never experienced Mardi Gras! But your post made me feel like I was right there celebrating with them :) One of the things on my bucket list is to make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras :)

  12. My husband proposed to me after taking me to my first NOLA Mardi Gras. Then we moved to Tuscaloosa and would go each year with some close NOLA friends. All family, all fun. I can't wait to take my daughter some day and introduce her to the culture and tradition.