To most people in the world, January 6th is just another day. Here in New Orleans it’s Twelfth Night (Feast Of The Epiphany), the beginning of our Mardi Gras Season. Since the 1700s, we New Orleanians happily start adjusting our schedules and diets (we will be eating too much of everything, especially king cake) so we can enjoy everything the season entails. Here are six reasons why I love and appreciate Mardi Gras.
Carnival (Mardi Gras) Is A Season, Not Just A Day
Most people think we celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in English) Day and that’s all she wrote. Carnival is a season that is celebrated from Twelfth Night (Jan. 6th) to the day before Ash Wednesday (47 days before Easter).
King cake is one of my favorite things about this season. It symbolizes the celebration of the wise men traveling to see Jesus after He was born so they could worship Him (hence the name “king cake”). Each king cake comes with a tiny baby (symbolizing Jesus) inside of it (at social gatherings, whoever gets the piece with the baby has to buy the next king cake). Traditional king cakes are braided with cinnamon and topped with a smooth white icing and purple (means justice), green (means faith) and gold (means power) sugar.
Mardi Gras Balls
Some of the most extravagant and exciting experiences happen at Mardi Gras Balls. Each parade krewe (which is mostly comprised of elite professionals) has a ball a few weeks before Mardi Gras Day introducing their royal court and debutantes (most come from a long lineage of participants). Each ball has an array of DJs, bands and entertainers (Keith Sweat, Pitbull, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Kelly Clarkson, etc.).
Throughout the season, festivals like Family Gras, King Cake Festival, Lundi Gras In Rivertown and Lundi Gras In Woldenberg Park get us geared up for the big day. We enjoy our favorite local bands, signature foods and unique art.
During the season, there are certain traditions that all of us have seen, experienced and appreciated. Each year hundreds of people begin marking their territory for certain parades by camping out, setting up chairs and even placing their sofas outside. The Friday before Mardi Gras there is a “Greasing Of The Poles” ceremony in the French Quarter where Burlesque dancers seductively climb the building poles and apply petroleum jelly to them to prevent tourist from climbing them during Mardi Gras weekend.
Throughout the season, dozens of Krewes bless the New Orleans Metropolitan Area with parades (parades roll in several areas at the same time). Each Krewe (some are all women, all men, all African American, etc) has a unique theme, meaning and throws (decorated shoes, coconuts, mirror compacts, purses, glitter boxes, etc). Some are modest in number with a few hundred members, while others are over 3,000 strong. All of them have a diverse group of school and community bands and dance teams that perform in them.
To me, Mardi Gras isn’t just a time to party. It’s a time to create precious memories with family and friends. It’s a time to celebrate the beautifully unique culture that is New Orleans.