Louisiana’s Biggest Party: Mardi Gras

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Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. It is spectacular parades and unbelievable costumes. It is dancers in the streets donning purple, green and gold—Mardi Gras’ official colors. It is great music, food and drink at every turn. You just have to choose a Louisiana city to indulge and enjoy.

Do not limit your choice to The Big Easy. While the biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans, nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party.

Mardi Gras refers to events leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras, on March 4 this year, is French for Fat Tuesday, which refers to the practice of eating rich foods before the religious obligations of Lent. The period leading up to Fat Tuesday is known as the Carnival season. Canadian brothers, Bienville and Iberville, the founders of New Orleans, landed in the present day city on Mardi Gras day in 1699.

Parades are the most popular public activity during the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. Parades are organized by private social clubs called krewes. The New Orleans area has more than 60 parading krewes and there are many more throughout the state. Multiple parades are staged in cities including Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Houma.

Parades include elaborate floats and krewe members in themed costumes. Riders throw tens of thousands of colored beads, themed cups, doubloons (commemorative coins), trinkets, toys and items of humorous or historical nature. Marching between floats are local bands, clowns and flambeau carriers who illuminate night parades with torches.

An unusual Mardi Gras celebration is found in the rural areas in south Louisiana’s “Cajun Country” such as Mamou, Eunice and Church Point. The Courir de Mardi Gras, or the running of the Mardi Gras, involves costumed locals going house to house on horseback, performing tricks and stunts in an effort to secure donations of chicken, sausage, vegetables and rice that will be used at the end of the day to make a massive gumbo (a hearty stew-like soup) for a community street party, usually featuring live Cajun and zydeco music.

Louisiana visitors can also experience Mardi Gras year round through popular attractions. They include Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, The Presbytere and the Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans; Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge; the Mardi Gras Museum at Central School Arts and Humanities Center in Lake Charles; and the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice.

For details on Mardi Gras in Louisiana, visit www.LouisianaTravel.com/Mardi-Gras.