Discovering Traditions: Mardi Gras by Diana Gordon

Discovering Tradition

Today is Mardi Gras, the last day of Carnival and the last day before the lent season begins tomorrow. I have the pleasure of welcoming back Diana Gordon with a contribution to Discovering Traditions, she is shedding some light on the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. Last time she was a guest on my blog she shared her Christmas Traditions. Last week Conny Kauffmann contributed to Discovering Traditions with a post on Karneval as it is celebrated in Cologne.

Discovering Traditions: Mardi Gras by Diana Gordon

We here in New Orleans start the Carnival season just after Christmas and New Years end. January 6 marks the Epiphany/Twelfth Night, which is the start of Carnival season and the lead up to Mardi Gras, the last big hurrah before Lent. From Epiphany to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), there’ll be parades and balls and costumes and king cake.

We don’t belong to any krewes* or anything—and that’s the way I like it, at least for now. It can be both expensive and time-consuming to be a part of a Mardi Gras Krewe, what with membership dues and purchasing throws and costuming expenses. But being in the city during such a celebration is a lot of fun.

Here are a few of my favorite Mardi Gras traditions in the city:

  • King_Cake_BabyKing cake is a dessert served during the Mardi Gras season. Traditionally, they are made of a twisted ring of cinnamon-flavored dough covered with icing and sugar, usually in the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple, and gold, though you can get king cakes in all kinds of flavors and fillings now. They have a small baby inside–originally a symbol of the newborn baby Jesus, the baby has come to stand more for luck and prosperity.
  • In New Orleans, our paraders throw things to the crowd. You can never tell if it’ll be candy, a toy, beads, a cup, or some other trinket, but there are always throws. I’ve caught shoes, purses, scarves, stuffed animals, bubble bath, pumice stones, candy, potato chips, flashing rings, and all sorts of other things. You just never know.
  • KChaos07FlambeauKnightRedFlambeaux. Heavy torches once lit the way for parades; they were carried by men who interact with the crowd and the parade itself. Originally, these men were slaves or free black men, and they were thrown tips performing their task. The torches, and the tipping of flambeaux carriers are unique parts of the night-time Mardi Gras parades.
  •  Sometimes, beads manage to make their way into the trees after someone throws them. Sometimes, people put them there. What happens is a lovely, strange looking tree, a species unique to the area, the bead tree. Eventually the beads have to be taken down or cut down so as not to harm trees, but they’re pretty while they’re around.
  • And of course, the parades themselves—and the costumes! Everywhere there are people in costume. People on floats are in costume. Marching bands are in costume. Horse-back riders and riding and marching krewes are in costume. Spectators are in costumes. They range from the full-on costume to a wig and funny glasses, and you can just never tell what you’re going to see. I love a city that loves to dress up.

And now, if you guys will excuse me, it’s time that I put on my wolf ears, furry leggings, and tail and get myself to a parade. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

*Krewes are the organizations responsible for putting on parades and events during the Mardi Gras season.

Diana is a nerd, a bookworm, a feminist, and a social media junkie. She is a freelance writer and researcher and the administrator of the blog Part-Time Monster. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster or find her on Facebook at She lives in New Orleans with her son, her husband, and one very energetic terrier.

Flambeaux photo credit: By Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5,
King Cake baby photo credit: By Hlane13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

12 thoughts on “Discovering Traditions: Mardi Gras by Diana Gordon

  1. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of those celebrations I’d really love to experience one day. I’ve got a friend who studied in New Orleans and her costumes are always something to behold! And a former supervisor on the American team (I was based in the UK) spent her entire live in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge and for her first visit to the UK (which was around Mardi Gras) she brought beads for everyone. King Cake sounds lovely! I’ll have to look for a recipe!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve never actually made a king cake, believe it or not! There are lots of bakeries here that ship, but I’m not sure about internationally! 🙂

        Mardi Gras here is not quite like anything else anywhere. It’s such a rich, odd combination of traditions that have taken on a life of their own, and the whole city shuts down to watch it happen.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I miss King cake so much!! I was trying to get some batter exported from Mam Papaul’s, but they wouldn’t ship it. 😦 Next year! I would make it from scratch, but a lot of the ingredients simply don’t exist in Japan, including sugar sprinkles!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you so much for giving me a glimpse into Mardi Gras in New Orleans. What an experience!! I’d love all that theatre and spectacle. So much fun!! I have read about this King Cake and it sounds so spectacular and a little out there too. Would love to try it some time.
    xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really a lot of fun, and the king cakes are lovely. I’m sad that the holiday fell early this year and I won’t have one for my birthday cake, which is normally what I do!


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