A Mardi Gras END to Christmas Festivities
Monday, December 26, 2016 23 Comments
As Mardi Gras/Carnival Season begins
(with festivities that continue until Lent)
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Edited reblog from Happy Eve before Mardi Gras, 2015
About Mardi Gras – why here (and NOW)?
Since my ex-husband and I both attended grad school in New Orleans, we had three years to experience the celebrations of Mardi Gras – from King Cake parties to balls to parades and so-much-more. I relish the opportunity to share “insider” Mardi Gras knowledge gleaned from my personal experiences in New Orleans over several seasons.
I’m posting this reblog just a tad early this year, in case some of you might be inspired to set up a quick trip while there still might be a hotel room to be had.
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 final night of the festival that happens on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday to many Christians) – which also the last feast day before the long “fast” days of the period of Lent observed by many Christian churches.
Although the many weeks of Mardi Gras revelry have now become 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
PROFESSOR CARL NIVALE’s FASCINATING SITE
for a whole lot more!
Not ALWAYS New Orleans – and almost wasn’t
When they think of Mardi Gras, most people think of New Orleans, Louisiana. But, in the United States anyway, Mardi Gras was first observed in Mobile, Alabama — in 1703, back when it was a colony of French soldiers.
Although Mardi Gras has been an official state holiday in Louisiana since the State declared it a legal holiday in 1875, few people are aware that it 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 society), held a secret meeting on January 4th, 1857, to plan New Orleans’ first parade — which hit the streets on February 24th, 1857, 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:
- Carnival organizations began to be referred to as Krewes;
- Krewes were to be secret societies;
- Parades and floats were brought together under a unifying theme; and
- Grand bal masques were held afterwards.”
Parades and Floats
The Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans now seem to be considered the archetype of the masquerades and street-revelry that take place in other parts of the United States on the weekend before the first day of Lent.
In New Orleans, however, the fun goes on for much longer.
Although there are now parades and floats in the weeks preceding the “official” start of the Carnival festivities (leading up to what most people think of as New Orleans Mardi Gras), the whole shebang actually begins on Twelfth Night — King’s Day, the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. That is the day when the first of the many “official” Krewe parades roll out.
Celebrations continue until Fat Tuesday,
always the day before Ash Wednesday,
the first day of Lent.
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Mardi Gras in Washington
Thanks 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. This year it will be held the weekend of February 9-11, 2017. (“Three days of networking and economic development, complete with a side of revelry, elegant celebration, and fun!” 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, February 11th.
With some cash and just a bit of pull you can wrangle an invite — but be aware that, except for the costumed Krewe members, it has always been 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 assured me that it is a lavish affair indeed – funded personally by the Krewe, its members individually, and the King and Queen (who are also expected to give thank you gifts to their court as well as each of their dance partners.)
The King’s gift given to each of the Princesses her year, for example, was a small solid gold replica of that year’s doubloon, dangling from a gold chain.
Each of the 50 Dukes received silver goblets – as in, more than one goblet!
An honor usually reserved for the wealthy, rumor has it that businessmen have actually mortgaged their homes to pay for the experience of becoming New Orleans royalty for a season (or to pay for that experience for a daughter).
New Orleans 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. New Orleans 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 leading up to 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 24-28 this year, 2017).
Remember, Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” is the last day of the Carnival season as it always falls the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. You’ll need to plan to arrive no later than early Saturday, February 25, 2017 in order to enjoy the extended weekend of festivities.
That will allow 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 Mardi Gras, you’d better start calling around to find one NOW. Hotel rooms sell out rapidly and early. 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 used to begin on St. Charles Avenue near Napoleon – but check with the Chamber, your hotel, or one of the related content links I’ve provided to verify what’s happening this year.
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.
Krewe members also absorb most (if not all) of the cost of their own throws – those beads and doubloons the crowd lusts after, expecting them to flow like waterfalls.
Think about THAT the next time you grumble about the rising expense of Halloween candy for a relative handful of ghouls and goblins — and make sure you scream “Thank you!” at least as loudly as you scream “Throw me something, Mister!”
There are now dozens and dozens of Krewes, by the way, and many of them are named after figures from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology (although a few are named after the neighborhood where they parade). In New Orleans they serve as “social clubs,” not totally unlike the Kiwanis, etc. in other towns. The most obvious difference is that their big blow-out activity is always Mardi Gras, and much of their fund-raising is toward that end.
Some of the larger, more socially prominent Krewes hire big-name celebrity entertainers and invite celebrities to ride on their floats as Grand Marshals. The most popular of the concerts are expected to draw more than 20,000 bead-wearing revelers, and at least one of the Krewes generally books the Superdome for its annual Extravaganza.
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.
And so much MORE . . .
Click over to the the original post: Happy Eve before Mardi Gras, for 968 more words describing my experience with Grand Balls and Call-outs, beads, doubloons and other Mardi Gras collectables thrown from the floats, King Cakes and King Cake Parties, and other Mardi Gras customs.
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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