In New Orleans people walk around saying “Happy Mardi Gras” just like you would say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Halloween!” Festive just doesn’t capture what Mardi Gras is. Mardi Gras is fun, its festive, its debauchery, and its millions of pounds of plastic that people go crazy for that will later end up in landfills. Miles of people line up drinking in the street, bringing their families out to enjoy the parades, the floats, the costumes, and the music. Not all throws are created equal; the majority of throws are beads but you can also get a variety of other stuff like cups, bags, stuffed animals, boas (the feathery ones that go around your neck), as well as shoes (actually it’s a wizard of oz looking high heel that is quite sought after), and light up thingys such as rings, balls, and pens. There are also many shapes and sizes of beads with the huge ones being a bit more fun and the traditional glass beads being pretty rare. We happened to get some this year and the glass beads are probably the only ones I’ll end up keeping after Mardi Gras.
There are parades the week before Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, with the intensity building up the weekend immediately before. The parades on Wednesday and Thursday are a little more relaxed, with the weekend bringing some of the biggest parades. Starting Friday morning people start staking out territory on the parade route by putting out ladders, lawn chairs, tents, and even makeshift bleachers and couches in preparation for the evening. There are parades all over the city that have different routes, but I mainly went to the Uptown ones. The Uptown parades usually start off on Magazine and Jefferson. They go down Magazine to Napoleon and then up to St. Charles, where they continue towards Canal on the edge of the French Quarter. The type of crowd changes as you go further down the route, with closer to Napoleon being slightly more family friendly and as you get closer to the highway there are more drunk college students and the neighborhoods then to get a bit more dodgy.
I noticed that the parade processions tended to have this pattern:
High school band
Horse riders in KKK looking attire
Flambo guys (carry torches around and spin them, looks like remnants of older Mardi Gras parade tradition)
Band with cheerleaders
You know the parade is over when a fire truck cruises by followed by street sweepers.
This was only my first Mardi Gras, but here’s my advice.
1) Bring a backpack or bag with cups, flasks, bottles, and pretty much anything alcoholic that you want. Mardi Gras is celebratory, everyone is drinking, and it lasts for hours so try and pace yourself.
2) Regarding #1, bathrooms are hard to find. Your options are: Buy something at a restaurant or bar, bribe someone to use their private port-a-potty, or find a dark, secluded bush somewhere.
3) Wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy or stepped on.
4) Be aware of potential fights, as there will definitely be one or more drunk people that will get on your nerves. In general be aware of your surroundings.
5) Most importantly, here’s how to get the good throws. You need to scream or yell for beads, and distinctive whistles or noises that set you apart from the rest of the crowd. Also, many people shout stuff like, “gimme beads!”, or “gimme the pink boa!” But I hear tell you get more stuff by making eye contact, looking like you’re having a good time and saying “Happy Mardi Gras!” to the throwers instead of just yelling at them to give you stuff. Begging usually gets ignored. Girls on top of guys’ shoulders usually get more stuff as well as people with creative signs.
I would have to say that the Krewe of Nyx parade was my favorite. The ladies on the floats gave a ton of throws away and I caught some good stuff that night. I would have to say that after going to parades almost every day for the whole week it definitely gets a little tiring so if I were to do it again, I would probably be okay going every other day. Mardi Gras is an amazing holiday in New Orleans and once here it is easy to see that the whole city is enlivened leading up to and during the Mardi Gras season and for good reason. Mardi Gras is a festival like no other and I’m happy to finally check it off my list of world renowned festivals to attend.