New Orleans Mardi Gras – One of the World’s Biggest Parties!
New Orleans Mardi Gras is one of the world’s biggest parties and the celebration that made New Orleans famous! Mardi Gras in New Orleans is more than just one day of partying! It is an entire season of celebrating that leads up to Mardi Gras Day – a day that is an insane culmination of the carnival season, where 1.5 million people descend on the city to take part in this wild celebration!
New Orleans is a party town that doesn’t stop celebrating from Halloween right up until Lent. Houses all over the city are decorated for half a year with giant pumpkins, which transform into Thanksgiving, Christmas and then Mardi Gras decorations. This already vibrant city increases tenfold during Mardi Gras with parades, parties, balls, floats, beads, lots of feasting and drinking and non-stop mayhem and merrymaking that everyone in the city is a part of.
Mardi Gras is celebrated in other major cities along the Gulf Coast like Mobile, Alabama and Biloxi/Gulfport, Mississippi in addition to all the major cities in the state of Louisiana. However, none of these cities comes close to the sheer carnival grandeur and merrymaking that is seen in New Orleans. New Orleans is a celebration that you must add to your bucket list.
When is Mardi Gras New Orleans 2021?
When is Mardi Gras? The thing about Mardi Gras is that it is always unpredictable, including its date! The date of Mardi Gras depends on the moon. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox and Mardi Gras takes place 41 days before Easter Sunday. Easy-peasy to figure out right. Mardi Gras can be as early as 3rd February or as late as the 9th March.
The New Orleans Mardi Gras Season officially begins on the feast of the Epiphany which is January 6th or the twelfth day of Christmas. This day is famous in the Catholic religion for symbolizing when the wise men visited Jesus. New Orleans officially culminates at midnight on Mardi Gras Day as Lent officially begins. In 2022 Mardi Gras day takes place on Tuesday, 1st February 2022.
What is Mardi Gras?
New Orleans is home to the most famous Mardi Gras in the world! What is Mardi Gras? Mardi Gras is a season-long party period where millions of people around the world take part in some sort of public celebration which is usually a street party or parade.
Mardi Gras is associated with the Catholic tradition of celebration before the onset of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is a Catholic term that is the official name for the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. What does Mardi Gras mean? Mardi Gras is the French word for Shrove Tuesday.
Historically, Mardi Gras is a festival of gluttony and debauchery because Shrove Tuesday was the last chance one had to drink and eat rich food, essentially ‘fatten up’ before Lent. Lent was historically 40 days of sacrifice and intense fasting before Easter.
Is Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras the same day? Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Pancake Tuesday and Carnival are all different names for the same day. It just depends on which country you are in, as different countries use different names.
How long does Mardi Gras last?
Whilst the New Orleans Mardi Gras Season officially begins on the 6th January with an exclusive masquerade ball. The majority of celebrations are concentrated in the two weeks prior to Mardi Gras day.
What is the History of New Orleans Mardi Gras?
The origins of Mardi Gras date back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome who used to throw wild celebrations centered around the winter and spring solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, these celebrations merged with the church’s teachings about the birth of Jesus.
When the influence of the Roman Catholic Church spread across the world, carnival spread with it. The celebrations spread to France who has been celebrating carnival for centuries. It was the French that brought Mardi Gras to their colonies in Louisiana at the turn of the 17th century.
The first official US Mardi Gras occurred in Mobile in 1703, and arrived in New Orleans shortly after its founding in 1718. About a century later New Orleans Mardi Gras had established krewes, street parades, a carnival King and had begun the tradition of throwing colorful beads to the crowd.
What are Krewes?
If you’ve ever been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras and wondered who are the people that ride the floats. They are the members of Krewes. Krewes are the heart and soul of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and an important part of a tradition that is old as the New Orleans Mardi Gras itself. Krewes date back to early days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the 1800s.
Krewes are private non-profit social clubs who are responsible for organising all the official New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. All 70+ parades that occur during Mardi Gras and masquerade balls and parties, are organised and funded by the Krewes.
Today, New Orleans Mardi Gras has dozens of Krewes each with their own traditions. Krewes work on a new theme each year and have floats designed based on that year’s theme. Even their (by invitation only) lavish Mardi Gras Balls carry out the yearly theme. The Captain and Officers of any given Krewe work year-round on making their parade outstanding for the locals and visitors to enjoy.
Rex Krewe – The King of Mardi Gras
The Krewe of Rex is the oldest, and still plays a major role in Mardi Gras celebrations to this day. Rex was funded by wealthy prominent citizens of New Orleans back in 1872. The King of Rex becomes the official King of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Interestingly Rex is Latin for King.
The Rex Parade is an annual attraction of New Orleans Mardi Gras and is considered a centrepiece of the carnival because of the Krewe’s rich and colorful themes, their original costumes and elaborately hand-decorated and hand-painted floats.
Rex Krewe is responsible for most of the original Mardi Gras traditions, including the official colors, as well as the collectible doubloon coins (introduced by Rex in 1960).
Mardi Gras Indians
Mardi Gras Indians are another unique New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. These New Orleans Tribes were formed by the African American communities in the mid-1880s. Who in the earlier years were excluded from the celebrations and used to have their own celebrations mocking the krewe royalty.
The African American Krewes decided to honour the native Indian tribes who used to help shield runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indian Krewes dress in elaborate feathered costumes to honour the native Americans.
There are over 50 Indian tribes in New Orleans who each have their own chief and hierarchy. The Indians grace the streets of New Orleans in a friendly competition over which chief is the prettiest. The tribes have names like the Golden Eagles, Flaming Arrows, the Yellow Pocahontas etc.
There are several parades that locals have named Super Krewes because their floats are much bigger, with state-of-the-art lighting and hold as many as 3 times the number of krewe members than traditional floats. Their parades end by the floats actually rolling through either the Superdome or the Convention Center where their Gala or Extravaganza is held with thousands of their friends, family and other ticket holders in attendance.
The Super Krewe Parades start the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day and begin with the Krewe of Endymion (Saturday before Mardi Gras Day) and the Krewe of Bacchus (Sunday before Mardi Gras Day). This new tradition began in the 1960’s and several more fall into this category. Endymion always has celebrities as their Grand Marshall as well as headliner entertainment at their after party. Krewe of Bacchus always has a celebrity reign as their King.
The Zulu Krewe
While the Rex Krewe is considered carnival royalty and often called the official King of Mardi Gras. There is actually another Krewe that is considered carnival royalty and that is the Zulu Krewe.
The Zulu Krewe were created in 1916 and were the first Krewe dedicated solely to the African American population of New Orleans.
Prior to this the African-American community found that they were not allowed to join the predominantly white-only Krewes. The Zulu Krewe changed all that and finally provided an opportunity for the African American population to participate in Mardi Gras.
Most Krewes are open to the public and offer open membership. Several Krewes are from various organisations like the firefighters, teachers etc. But some of the Krewes are highly exclusive and secretive. These secret societies have been part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans since day one.
The majority of Krewes charge a yearly membership fee and require their members to participate in fundraisers and other events to raise money. All the money these Krewes raises, goes into the construction of floats, costumes and purchase of throws.
Mardi Gras Parades
In the lead up to New Orleans Mardi Gras about 70 parades roll through the Greater New Orleans area. Over 2000 Mardi Gras Parades have been held in New Orleans since 1857.
Each of the parades has band members, dance groups, clowns, floats, motorcycles, and thousands of participants. Each Krewe will select a theme and then create their parade around that theme through music choice, float decoration, tailored costumes etc.
Mardi Gras Parade themes have generally been taken from legends, geography, myths, stories or history. Some of the most popular parades are famous for their satire and social and political commentary. The parades by the Super Krewes are much larger in size.
The parade route for most of the parades in New Orleans rolls down St. Charles Avenue. Only small “walking parades” are able to stroll through the French Quarter due to its narrow streets.
To see the 2020 parade schedule and times please go here.
What are Mardi Gras throws?
If you have ever what’s up with the Mardi Gras beads? When you are a spectator at a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, you must be prepared to be showered with items! One thing all Mardi Gras Parades have in common is that the Krewe riders will throw trinkets to the crowd. The most famous throw is of course the Mardi Gras beads.
Krewe members throw items ranging from colorful Mardi Gras beads, doubloons, toys, plastic cups and more. This was done to symbolize the rich sharing their wealth. The Zulu Krewe throws coconuts which are considered to be the highest prize thrown in New Orleans Mardi Gras. In recent years, many Krewes have created their “signature” throws such as hand decorated high-heel shoes from the Krewe of Muses, hand bejeweled sunglasses from the Krewe of Iris and the list goes on!
IMPORTANT…bring some type of tote bag to the parades with you as you will need it to haul everything you catch to bring home as souvenirs.
What is a King Cakes
New Orleans Mardi Gras is filled with lots of time-honored traditions like the King Cake. The New Orleans King Cakes comes from their French counterparts. The King Cake is basically a decadent cinnamon coffee cake shaped in a circle or oval decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar icing. There is the traditional “plain” cake but now there are lots of specialty cakes with elaborate “stuffing/fillings”.
Hidden inside every King Cake is a tiny plastic baby. When the King Cake is cut up whoever receives the piece with the baby must throw the next party (or at least buy the next cake to be shared at the office). New Orleans sells over 750,000 king cakes including 50,000 which are ordered online and shipped outside New Orleans.
What are the Mardi Gras Colors?
One look at the topping of the King Cake and you see that the New Orleans Mardi Gras colors are purple which symbolizes justice, gold which symbolizes power and green which symbolizes faith.
These colors were chosen by Rex Krewe back in 1872 to honor the Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov who visited New Orleans to celebrate carnival and the local people of New Orleans were required to display these colors.
What are the Best Mardi Gras Parades
There are more than 70 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades held on different days during the New Orleans Mardi Gras Season. The Rex and Zulu Parades held on Mardi Gras day are two of the most popular parades that one must see when attending New Orleans Mardi Gras.
Krewe du Vieux Parade is a very popular parade that is very satirical and political in nature, and features elaborate floats. Endymian is a hugely popular parade from one of the biggest ‘super krewes’ that must be seen.
Krewe of St. Anne & Krewe of Julu Parades, are two wacky parades full of wild characters in weird costumes. The Krewe of Muses throws hand-designed glittery shoes of all shapes and styles to delight the crowd.
Why not check out some of the awesome all-girl krewe parades like the Cameltoe, Lady Steppers, Pussyfooters and the Sirens, who are always famous for incredible costumes and dance moves.
There are plenty of small and quirky parades that are worth attending like ‘tit Rəx which features mini-floats that are hand pulled. Then there is the Krewe of Barkus that features marching dogs. Also, there is a sci-fi theme parade by Krewe of Chewbacchus.
Zulu Parade & Rex Parade
On the official Mardi Gras day is the peak of celebrations and features two of the most popular parades, the Zulu and Rex Parade. Starting with the Zulu Parade which began as a satirical parade that poked fun at the early white-only krewes.
The Zulu Parade is famous for their “Mardi Gras Throws”. Every year Zulu riders load hundreds of hand decorated coconuts onto their float. The Zulu Coconut is the coveted Mardi Gras throw that everyone wants.
Following the Zulu parade is the Rex Parade which has over 600 male riders parade down the French quarter of New Orleans. The Rex Parade is the highlight of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and has been ever since it first began.
The Rex Parade features the most elegant designs and amazing wooden wagons floats that are still built the traditional way. They also have a long tradition of selecting amazing themes.
Mardi Gras Indian Parade
Mardi Gras Day is also when the Mardi Gras Indians Parade. The parade attracts crowds of thousands who follow the different tribes parade through their respective neighborhoods. Eventually all the tribes meet up with each other for “battle”.
Mardi Gras Indians tribes wear the most amazing elaborate hand-made feathered costumes and colourful beads inspired from traditional Native American clothing. The tribes battle with each other through showing off their costumes. As well as performing songs and threatening dances.
Mardi Gras Balls and Parties
Every year more than a hundred Carnival Balls are held in New Orleans. The majority of balls are invitation-only, however a select through are open to the public. Mardi Gras balls have been around since Louisiana was a French colony and originally were exclusive events that could only be attended by New Orleans high-society.
High-society balls are very aristocratic. There is no such thing as a ticket and if you’re not a member you can’t attend. These balls are full of rituals and traditions. Debutantes are also introduced to society during the ball.
Super Krewe Balls were also created so that all members of society could attend Mardi Gras Balls. The three super krewes known to put on the best balls are Bacchus, Orpheus, and Endymion. The Krewe of Endymion hosts their ball after the parade and features celebrity performers and tens of thousands in attendance.
New Orleans Mardi Gras for the Family
Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras is family-friendly event that is full of family picnics and BBQs lined up along St. Charles Avenue. Children come out to watch the parades and float riders have plenty of toys and stuffed animals to hand out to the kids.
How to dress for Mardi Gras?
Fun Mardi Gras fact is that in New Orleans it is a law that all parade participants who ride a float must wear a mask or they are breaking the law. This Mardi Gras tradition was created to allow people to escape their social class and mingle with whoever they want.
If you are wondering what kind of Mardi Gras outfit should I wear? On Mardi Gras Day a costume is a must and anything goes (as long as all your private parts are covered). It can be comical or whimsical doesn’t matter but if you don’t dress up then you will look out of place like these carnival costumes here on Amazon.
If you are attending one of the Mardi Gras Balls then you should dress up for the event as most have a fancy-dress requirement. Also make a note that it is still pretty cold in New Orleans during Mardi Gras so dress warm.
When planning your costume, remember comfortable shoes are a MUST, as you will be doing a lot of walking and standing…parades do go on for hours!
The French Quarter also called Vieux Carré
The French Quarter is a charming historic section of New Orleans. This is where most of the Mardi Gras action will be held particularly on Bourbon Street. The neighborhood has beautiful European architecture and the buildings feature colorful exteriors.
The more traditional parades march through here. If you’re lucky you may even get invited to watch the action from above on some of the balconies that run along Bourbon Street.
It All Ends at Midnight
Yes, just like Cinderella the fun ends at exactly midnight on Mardi Gras night! As the clock strikes twelve all the celebrating finishes. This is because Midnight is the official start of Lent. But don’t worry because you will probably be ready for bed after the full day of craziness that engulfs New Orleans on Mardi Gras!
If you are struggling to find good options in the Lower Garden District, the Garden District or the French Quarter then don’t panic! There are still plenty of other great options. Look around Uptown, or the Warehouse District or the Central Business District. For a quieter but still exciting experience consider Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater neighborhoods. New Orleans is a fairly small city and a great place to walk around when the weather is nice.
How to get to New Orleans?
- By Plane: You can fly to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). It takes around 30 – 45 minutes to get from the airport to the New Orleans CBD or French Quarter. For quotes on flights check here.
- By Car: Drive to New Orleans via I-10, I-55, U.S. 90, U.S. 61, or even across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway on LA 25, then US 190. For quotes on car rentals check here.
- By Bus: Greyhound and Megabus service New Orleans from Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave.
- By Train: Amtrak trains service the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal which is located at 1001 Loyola Ave, in the Central Business District.
- By Ship: It’s not generally considered “transportation,” but it is possible that you can cruise to or from the Port of New Orleans
Where to stay for New Orleans Mardi Gras?
When it comes to where to stay for New Orleans Mardi Gras, location is important! And you must book your hotel as early as possible because they book out quickly! Also expect that you will be paying inflated rates. You want to be staying close to the parades so have a look at the different parade routes of each Krewe here, or alternatively download the parade tracker app.
The majority of people are interesting in seeing either the Uptown or French Quarter parades. A good rule of thumb is to stay closer to St Charles or Canal, as it will be easier for you to get around. Other good streets are Royal Street, Decatur and Magazine. But you want to be able to easily walk to and from the celebrations because traffic is a nightmare and you can use your own bathroom.
For hotels located close to the Uptown parades with a ‘New Orleans feel’ stay at The Prytania Park, Prytania Oaks and the Queen Anne Hotels, which are all located in the historic Lower Garden District, close to parades.
Other hotels on or near the parade route include Sheraton New Orleans, St. Christopher Hotel, Holiday Inn Superdome, Hotel Indigo, Pontchartrain Hotel, Pelham Hotel, The Royal Frenchmen Hotel and Bar, Ace Hotel New Orleans, Henry Howard Hotel, The Quisby or 1896 O’Malley.
There are also lots of great options for those who want to stay in the French Quarter including The Maison Dupuy Hotel, Hotel St. Helene, Royal Frenchmen, Hotel Provincial, Le Richelieu Hotel, or Royal Sonesta New Orleans. For a really cool experience book a room with a Bourbon Street facing balcony so that you can throw beads to those down below.
If you are struggling to find good options in the Lower Garden District, the Garden District or the French Quarter then don’t panic! There are still plenty of other great options. Look around Uptown, the Warehouse District or the Central Business District. For a quieter but still exciting experience consider Faubourg Marigny and the Baywater neighborhoods. New Orleans is a fairly small city and a great place to walk around when the weather is nice.
Anyway, check out some great accommodation deals for New Orleans here.
Take a Tour!
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is, without a doubt one of the most colorful and mind-blowing celebrations in the world! If you don’t want the hassle of organising a trip or you don’t want to experience it alone then check out Tour Radar which has loads of cool itineraries for different New Orleans Mardi Gras Tours. Don’t let another year go by without experiencing this iconic event!
Also if you look at Viator they also have some awesome New Orleans Mardi Gras tours, day trips and other cool things. There are food tours, walking tours, cooking lessons and fun activities and adventures for the whole family, definitely worth checking out!
Before you go!
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