Happy Eve before Mardi Gras

I’m Finally Celebrating Christmas
as the Mardi Gras/Carnival Season begins

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

NOTE: If you’ve just come from my 2016 reblog, to read the rest,
scroll down to “Grand Balls and Call-outs

About Mardi Gras – and why here?

Since I went to grad school in New Orleans, I had three years to experience the celebrations of Mardi Gras – from King Cake parties to balls to parades and so-much-more.

I LOVE a chance to share my knowledge of Mardi Gras from my experience there.

Mardi Gras beads in the traditional colors: green, purple and gold – thrown from the floats by MANY different Krew members riding in the many, MANY parades they sponsor

Just A BIT of Mardi Gras history

For those who don’t know much about it, the entire Mardi Gras experience is truly so-much-more than the last night of the festival, Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) – the last day before the long fast for Lent in many Christian churches.

Although it is now a protracted season of, effectively, blowing it all out before you have to give it up for Lent, its roots reach far back to pagan celebrations held long before Catholicism took hold.

(History & Mardi Gras buffs click to
for a whole lot more!)

Although Mardi Gras in the United States was first observed in Mobile, Alabama in 1703, back when it was a colony of French soldiers, most people now link New Orleans, Louisiana with Mardi Gras (where it is now actually a state holiday, but was almost banned entirely in 1856 due to looting, rampant vandalism and worse).

Hoping to save the festival, The Mystick Krewe of Comus (New Orleans’ first Mardi Gras krewe), held a secret meeting on January 4th, 1857, to plan New Orleans’ first parade, which hit the streets on Mardi Gras day, February 24th, 1857 and is considered the birth of modern New Orleans Mardi Gras!

According to Carl Nivale, “From the moment the first float rolled, several important Mardi Gras traditions were born:

  1. Carnival organizations began to be referred to as krewes;
  2. Krewes were to be secret societies;
  3. Parades and floats were brought together under a unifying theme; and
  4. Grand bal masques were held afterwards.”

The Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans now seems to be considered the archetype of the masquerades and street-revelry that take place in other parts of the United States before the long Lenten fast.

Mardi Gras in Washington

MysticKrewDClogoThanks to the efforts of the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians, there is even a lavish Mardi Gras celebration in Washington, D.C., for displaced Louisianians living in our nation’s capital.

It also serves as Mardi Gras for politicians, whether or not they are able to travel to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday. It will be held the weekend of January 22-24 this year – 2015. (“Three days of revelry with a touch of economic and business development” so says the Jefferson Chamber)

The weekend includes a party with the Louisiana Congressional Delegation, a dinner dance with the presentation of the Court, and a New Orleans style Mardi Gras Ball, this year on Saturday January 24th.

You can wrangle an invite but, except for the costumed krewe members, it is, by the way, strictly a black tie affair.

One of my NOLA friends actually had the opportunity to serve as one of the fifty Princesses in the court one year (yes – 50! – one for each state).  She assures me that it is a lavish affair indeed – funded personally by the Krewe, its members individually, and the King and Queen.

The gift given to each of the Princesses her year, for example, was a small solid gold replica of that year’s dubloon, dangling from a gold chain.  Each of the 50 Dukes received silver goblets – as in, more than one goblet!

Mardi Gras otherwise

The “official” Carnival season actually begins TOMORROW, on King’s Day, January 6th – the Feast of the Epiphany – which is when the first of the many parades begin.  It ends on Fat Tuesday, always the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Fat Tuesday 2015 falls on Tuesday, February 17 — never on the same date each year because Easter Sunday is never on the same Sunday each year (which determines Ash Wednesday).

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New Orleans Revelry

Traditional Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans spotlight the King of the Carnival and the Monarch of Merriment, as well as Comus, the God of Revelry.

Many people dress up in eye-catching costumes (plus various states of barely-dressed in the French Quarter), and spectacular black-tie balls are held by almost every single one of the many Krewes. (Debutantes are formally introduced to New Orleans society each year at the Ball Tablaeu.)

Experiencing it for yourself

If being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras is on your bucket list, know that the most popular time to visit is the extended weekend before what is commonly thought of as “Mardi Gras” by most people who haven’t spend at least a year in New Orleans (that’s February 13-17 this year – 2015).

That timing allows you to catch the most popular and lavish of the parades from some of the oldest Krewes, like Endymion, Bacchus, Zulu and Rex — as well as the festive celebrations throughout the whole city that are held as the season begins to draw to a close.

Unless you already have a place to stay, if you plan to be there this year, you’d better start calling around to find one NOW.  Hotel rooms sell out rapidly.  Since no parades go down Bourbon Street or into the French Quarter, you won’t miss it all by staying further out, by the way. The parades begin on St. Charles Avenue near Napoleon. (link to map of parade route in Related Content below)

For those of you like me, who struggle during the typical morning hours, the parades can last as late as 11 p.m. near the end of the route. Streetcars stop running in the Garden District during Mardi Gras, so plan accordingly.

There are also parades in the suburban areas like Metairie, which is only 10 minutes away from downtown New Orleans. (Metairie’s Caesar parade, the Saturday before Mardi Gras weekend, is the parade Disneyworld features on Mardi Gras day.)

The Many Themes of Mardi Gras

There is never an official Mardi Gras theme since there is no official Mardi Gras — it is NOT sponsored by the city.

Each Krewe decides on its own theme each year, designs its own floats, sponsors its own events, and selects its own king, queen and court — which are often kept secret until the parade or, in some cases, the ball.

Costumes, floats, some of their throws and, if they have one, their “official” Mardi Gras poster reflect each Krewe’s theme, which changes every year.

There are dozens and dozens of Krewes, which are “social clubs” in New Orleans, not totally unlike the Kiwanis, etc. in other towns, except that their big blow-out activity is always Mardi Gras, and much of their fund-raising is toward that end.

Many of the Krewes are named after figures from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, but some are named after the neighborhood where they parade.

Some of the larger, more socially prominent Krewes hire celebrity entertainers or invite celebrities to ride on their floats as Grand Marshals.

The Krewe of Endymion, for example — traditionally the largest parade in the Mardi Gras festivities — already announced a nighttime performance in the Superdome by Luke Bryan, the country star. 

His concert is expected to draw 20,000 bead-wearing revelers and the Krewe will hold the annual Endymion Extravaganza at the Superdome as well (on the evening of February 14th, after the Valentine’s Day parade wraps up).

Like I said – LAVISH!

There’s A LOT of money in New Orleans that is dedicated to each year’s Mardi Gras celebration, and it is a BIG deal (and quite the honor) to be invited to be in the court of one of the more popular Krewes.  Krewe fathers put the names of their little girls “into the hat” for consideration YEARS before the selection is actually made.

The dresses alone, worn by the Queen and her attendants, are such spectacular designer numbers that it is not unheard of for them to be encased in glass or plexiglass boxes showcased in the owners’ homes (like life-sized versions of the smaller ones that you will see in the homes of doll collectors).

Interesting momento of the amazing event, yes?  Most of the rest of us have only a few beads and doubloons to remind us.

Grand Balls and Call-outs

I was SO excited to score an invitation to a ball!  However, nobody warned me that most of the attendees at the formal balls never get a chance to actually dance.

My then-husband (in his rented tuxedo) and I (in a long, formal dress and fancy make-up and hair) spent the entire night sitting on the bleachers watching the spectacle, along with hundreds of other poor peasants like ourselves – each of us decked to the nines.

King and Queen of Carrolton 1967 – Karen (Richard) Martin — see Related Contents below for link to her fascinating “Behind the Scenes” interview about being New Orleans Royalty FOUR different times (the first time with her father as King)

Recalling the Ball

First the King, Queen and court were “introduced” to the crowd in a grand processional — before the dancing begins.

  • The dresses worn by the women were spectacular indeed. I had plenty of time to look them over as each princess curtsied in formal fashion to all four corners of the vast hall – which took more time than you might imagine as you read about it.
  • The males were all attired in costumes that will probably remind most who are new to the traditions of Mardi Gras of a fancy version of the outfit worn by the Burger King – tights and a tunic in themed colors.  They raised their arms in a salute to the crowd, in each of the four corners as well.
  • FINALLY it was time for the dancing, usually beginning with the dance by that year’s King and Queen — once they have divested themselves of the long and extremely heavy trains (mantles).

Reminding me of those first dances at wedding ceremonies, the court dances, “calling out” certain lucky friends and colleagues for the honor of joining them for one number, before moving on to tap the next Call Out.

Each new partner is presented with a gift, paid for by the member of the court who is doing the selecting. (Kinda’ adds a new spin to my NOLA friend’s golden doubloon necklace, huh?)

Like my expectations as a wedding guest, I kept waiting for the rest of us to be invited to join in the dancing, but it never happened.  My ex was actually relieved, but I LOVE to dance (especially ballroom dancing), so I couldn’t believe that at this particular ball it was primarily a spectator sport.

Still, I’m thrilled I got to experience a New Orleans Mardi Gras Gran Bal live and in-person – and if you are lucky enough to be invited, GO.

Women, you can wear your highest heels, even if you can barely walk – much less DANCE – in them.  Except for the walk from your car and back, you won’t be on your feet!

No worries, by the way, that you might be tapped to join the dancers on the floor.  Call Outs won’t be seated anywhere near you up in “the nosebleed sections.”  Their seats are much further “down,” closer to the dance floor.

Throw me something, Mister!

ThrowFerrellThe most amazing thing about it all is that, for the likes of you and me, it is a free party.

Don’t get hoodwinked into purchasing beads and dubloons – they are thrown by the fistful from each of the floats into the eager hands of the crowds of parade watchers (or from the decorated trucks, in the truck parades held in surrounding neighborhoods).

In case you are wondering, New Orleans celebrates each year with nearly 400 floats and 15,000 marchers – each with beads aplenty.

The beads pretty much look alike, but the dubloons can be different in ways only a true N’awlins Mardi Gras collector will really appreciate.

During the Bacchus parade, for example the king’s float throws doubloons with the image of the “Celebrity King” on one side of the doubloon that is generally sided with images of cups and toy coins on the other.

Zulu is known for throwing golden coconuts – so watch out!

Make sure you have a bag for all your loot – and send a prayer of protection and gratitude to the individual Krewe members, who purchase their own throws that they so generously throw throughout the crowd.

Kings from Commoners

In addition to foods found primarily in New Orleans (like beignets, oyster po-boys, muffulettas, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya), traditional Mardi Gras food includes the ubiquitous King Cake that makes its annual appearance everywhere, but only at Mardi Gras.

Throughout the season, in addition to the King Cakes eaten at traditional King Cake parties (held at home, in offices, schools, hospitals, fire stations and by practically every other organization), both locals and visitors eat King Cake for breakfast, coffee breaks and sometimes even for dessert.


King Cakes are similar to a ring-like sweet roll, sugared or iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.  To my taste buds they’re more like a softer, iced french bread than a more traditional cake of any other kind, so I never found them particularly yummie — but many people absolutely adore King Cake and look forward to it all year.

Baked into in each King Cake is a tiny plastic baby, pecan, bean or charm, hidden from view. They are sometimes discovered only when someone takes a bite that includes one of these objects.

The person who gets the piece of the cake with the charm or nut is dubbed the “king” or “queen” of that year’s Mardi Gras.

If you live in New Orleans, by the way, that honor includes the responsibility for giving the next King Cake party (and making or, usually, purchasing the next King Cake) – so your “coronation” doesn’t last very long.

And so it goes, right to the end.  Any excuse for a party!

Have YOU ever celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

If not, have you celebrated it anywhere else?
Have you ever hosted a Mardi Gras or King Cake party?
Do share your experience in the comments.

If you’ve written about it on your blog or website, leave us a link (only one per comment or you’ll be auto-spammed).  Let’s SHARE our celebrations and traditions in the spirit of good will toward ALL.

AS ALWAYS, comments are encouraged and eagerly awaited — as long as you don’t make individual people wrong, and do your best to avoid the dreaded “should” word, I will approve all comers (link-spammers shot on sight, however).

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

7 Responses to Happy Eve before Mardi Gras

  1. Thanks for the info Madelyn!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A Mardi Gras END to Christmas Festivities | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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