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 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.
- Flambeaux. 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 facebook.com/parttimemonster. 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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701141
King Cake baby photo credit: By Hlane13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32609044