Mardi Gras History and Traditions
Mardi Gras is music, parades, picnics, floats, excitement...and one big holiday in New Orleans! Everyone is wearing purple, green, and gold, and adorned with long beads caught from the beautiful floats. They sit on the ground throwing balls, playing music, having a picnic, and watching the crowds walk by between parades.
During Mardi Gras, all of the businesses and roads are practically shut down--people walk everywhere and meeting new friends. People are dressed in crazy costumes, kids are everywhere, and they love it! How did it all begin, and have the traditions changed? Take the links below for more information on Mardi Gras in New Orleans!
Flashing Women - Mardi Gras Tradition?
We have received many letters regarding the yearly celebration we enjoy in New Orleans - Mardi Gras - the Greatest Free Show on Earth!
Why do Women Bare their Breasts?
Question: A friend of mine was at the parade on Canal Street just recently and told me that his girlfriend got a coconut. But the part that I don't know about had something to do with she had to bare her breasts to get one. Can you tell me the story behind that?
Answer: She didn't have to. You see, during Mardi Gras the coconuts are a great treasure, and they are hard to get. That is also true for the beautiful beads that many throw. Some women will do anything to get what they want. Many do not want the throw as much as the attention they receive.
So please tell your friend that no one has to do anything they don't want to do--and they can be arrested on the parade route. She might want to keep in mind that the only benefit is often to those who took pictures of her to show everyone or post on the Internet.
Flashing for Beads
Question: No one will believe the tradition on Bourbon Street where women are offered beads to bare their breasts to the crowd. Could someone explain this? Where did this tradition come from?
Answer: As a fifth-generation New Orleanian, let me say this was never and is still not a tradition. Saying it is "tradition" is like saying that people who get drunk and pass out on Bourbon Street are following tradition as well.
Thankfully, this does not occur everywhere in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but just in the French Quarter area on Bourbon Street, an area known for its strip joints (where those interested in this sort of thing can see it year-round). Let me explain why you may have heard this rumor. Within the last 10 or so years, a few spring-break-aged tourists visiting our city have gotten drunk after the parades, gone to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and lost their inhibitions. The others are onlookers. The end result is that certain types of individuals are now attracted to the French Quarter in the evenings after the parades.
Our beautiful balconies are noted for being a wonderful place to enjoy the history, atmosphere, and culture of the Quarter as the sounds of jazz drift by after a fantastic meal. During Mardi Gras, many think of them as a place to get away from the crowd surges below. (Bourbon Street balconies during Mardi Gras are now sold to news media, large corporations, or long-term customers up to 5 years in advance.)
Sadly, many bystanders caught in this crowd will never return to Mardi Gras, because they don't realize they did not experience the "real" Mardi Gras. It does not occur in other areas. The Mardi Gras locals grew up with, enjoyed, and love is occurring everywhere else--throughout the entire city of New Orleans and all of its surrounding suburbs!
Local Mardi Gras krewes who bring you the "Greatest Free Show on Earth" do not even parade through the Quarter. That is why you have never seen a parade filmed from a balcony in the Quarter--you just see the crowds after the parades.
The result: If you're a woman, be warned. If you go into the French Quarter at night after a parade, many men are there just to see the sleazy stuff they saw on the news or the Internet, and often assume every woman there wants to be part of the frenzy.
We look forward to the day people will again understand, appreciate, and experience the magic of Mardi Gras!
Response: THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! I'm so glad it's not a tradition everywhere in New Orleans. You are right, the news--at least in the Midwest where I'm from--concentrates all its efforts on the French Quarter.
To tell you the truth, the French Quarter at night during Mardi Gras was not my idea of a good time. I much preferred the market early in the morning--with the street musicians, artists and families enjoying the real sights. The Riverwalk is just lovely and you meet the nicest people there. Again, thank you for the correction.
Quoted from Hotwired site:
But it was only after we had our first Sazerac, New Orleans' most famous cocktail, that we truly forgave that steamy Southern city for hosting an annual celebration for drunken lunkheads...whenever we have a foolish urge to head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, we do what most wise people would: have a Sazerac and wait it out.
Response: I just had to respond to your comments about Mardi Gras here in New Orleans. I am a 5th generation New Orleanian, have two children, and when they were nearing their teenage years, I actually felt guilty for going to and enjoying parades! Why? Because Mardi Gras is and always has been a family event! It is not for drunks, and never has been. It is sad that so many have that misconception.
In fact, this is the best place to come if you have a child and want to enjoy outdoor picnics and watch the Greatest Free Show on Earth! You and your family will enjoy watching marching bands, listening to music in the air, and catching free toys, doubloons and beads as you catch the excitement in the air!
While you wait for the parade, have that cotton candy, and sit down on your chair or right on the ground with the rest of your family while those around you throw frisbees and walk their dogs. Watch for the approaching parades, and see if you can catch doubloons from the celebrities!
Unfortunately, and in part due to the way the news media has focused on the activities of those who "visit" and go the French Quarter "after" the parades, it now appears that all many think about when they hear the words "Mardi Gras"are activities occurring in the French Quarter; i.e., flashing women (tourists who are drunk or need attention) and crowd surges (a spring break crowd trying to catch a glimpse)!
This is not Mardi Gras. It has absolutely nothing to do with the "real" Mardi Gras celebration. Unfortunately, sex makes more news, so every news camera visiting our beautiful city for Mardi Gras heads for the spring break crowd on Bourbon Street...and does not give adequate coverage to those who spend thousands of dollars and months of time planning "The Greatest Free Show on Earth"!
It is our hope that visitors who have seen Internet sites by tourists to New Orleans showcasing these tourists realize that they are only seeing 1/10 of 1% of what happens during the entire Mardi Gras season...and hopefully, will soon realize Mardi Gras is not one big spring break for dirty old men, but an enjoyable celebration for families and friends.
Locals stay away from the crowded Quarter in the evenings after a parade--but we wouldn't miss Mardi Gras for the world!
Wired's Response: Thanks for the note. You had some very good points, and they will be well taken. Next year, we'll work to improve our coverage...Cheers! Wired Digital
Mardi Gras Floats
Mardi Gras New Orleans makes every effort to share an insider's look at Mardi Gras--a behind-the-scenes look at the beauty of the balls, the fun of the parades, the celebrities, the king cakes, and more.
We try to remember what Mardi Gras has always been in this predominantly Catholic/Christian city--the last day before Ash Wednesday, when we receive ashes and begin 40 days of sacrifice in imitation of Our Lord, ending at Easter when we celebrate the Resurrection! Interesting to think about if and when you visit the French Quarter during Mardi Gras!
So if you can't make it down to New Orleans, stay tuned to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!!