It’s the largest free party in the world. Carnival in New Orleans. And this year marks the 300th anniversary celebration of NOLA…so expect a Triple Crown PARTY! Now, most residents of Louisiana know what ‘Mardi Gras’ is. Heck, we pick up celebrating Carnival right after New Years. But for those of you who just have a normal Tuesday in February, here are the cliff notes of the history of Mardi Gras. It dates back thousands of years ago, to celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
Rex, King of Carnival and one of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes, has been participating in parades since 1872, established purple, gold and green as the iconic Mardi Gras colors.
Rex and the Krewe of Comus come together each carnival season for a Meeting of the Courts. Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of the holiday’s future epicenter: New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state. On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city. There is a story that this secret society, including 13 New Orleanians, is also know as Mystick Krewe of Comus-Illuminati-Skull and Bones. Crazy movie stuff right there!!
Since then, krewes have remained a
fixture of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake. Don’t even get me started on a King Cake debate! Louisiana is also the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. Yes, businesses close, and schools are actually closed for at least two days. Some for the entire week. We call it “Mardi Gras break”. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and even Texas. Some historians believe that Mobile, founded by Bienville in 1702, is known for having the oldest organized Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, beginning in 1703. It was also host to the first formally organized Mardi Gras parade in the United States in 1830. Since, I am from Louisiana, I will go with NOLA being ‘first’. They drank a lot of ale back then and who really knows…
My love of carnival runs deep. My grandmothers side of the family was raised in Nola, my mom born there and grew up ON Canal. One on the Medical Centers now sits where her childhood home once was. I have such wonderful memories of going to visit my Paran & Aunt Lita there. My Paran (Godfather) rode in Endymion for almost 2 decades. My mom and Paran grew up together in New Orleans. I love looking at old photos especially old carnival season photos. Some of my favorite ones are photos from of Krewe of Tots. The “Theme” of that years ball was a “DREAM”. If you are looking at the newspaper clipping below, and you are from NOLA…read the names, you may find a dad, uncle, cousin or a name you recognize!
The little girl (my mom) is dreaming, looking at all of the “TOYS” in the window.
I guess the photo below was during rehearsal, because those TOYS are moving, LOL Or maybe it was during the wardrobe change for my mom…? Or maybe they came to life? I need to get clarification on this whole, toy process…..
The poor little girl wakes up from Dream and becomes the Queen of the Ball. The Little toy soldier to the left of my Paran is cracking me up! I think that is my Uncle Bobby Kling!
I just LOVE all of the traditions and pomp & circumstance with carnival and ball season! My husband, on the other hand, tolerates it all because he knows I enjoy it so much. I guess it’s just in my genes!
Ok, history lesson & memory lane complete. Now onto the survival tips!! If this is your 1st or 50th trip to Nola, there are some things you just never do.
- Ladies, don’t wear open toe shoes on Bourbon St. (street slime. think about it)
- Don’t spend your whole trip IN the French Quarter. There is SO much to do and see ALL around Nola.
- Don’t park stupid. You will get ticketed or towed.
- Any beads shorter than two feet long are unacceptable unless they are made of glass, real gold or a krewe cloisonné. 😉
Here are my other suggestions.
1-Don’t Buy Beads. This is the biggest rip-off, I think. Every souvenir shop has beads for sale, usually at a crazy price. Y’all, they literally throw them off floats for free by the millions. Go to any parade; you’ll likely catch more than you can possibly wear.
2- Arrive in Town Early. The biggest, most fun days of the Carnival season happen in the several days, weeks, leading up to Fat Tuesday. Krewe of Muses, (Uptown) with its fabulous SHOES, rolls the Thursday before; the Super-Krewe of Endymion, with its unique Mid-City parade route, rolls on the Saturday before. Of course I am a little partial to my Nola krewe, Mystic Krewe of Nyx, which rolls the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday (Uptown) and is the largest female krewe with over 3,000 members. If you are able to catch a coveted PURSE, consider yourself LUCKY! #SuperKrewe #HailNyx
The full listing of 2018 Parades and their routes…click here.
3- Arrive to your Parade Spot Early. If you plan on watching the parades, go find a spot on the route and get comfy. Some locals will arrive early in the morning for some of the bigger parades, but a couple of hours should do in most cases. Don’t worry, it’s not boring: the people-watching is golden. Really. You will not be bored. We have a saying… “Only in Louisiana.” Because the things you will see, sometimes you can’t UNsee, and it happens only in Louisiana. #BurnedInMyRentna
4-Do Bring Your Kids. FOR REAL, just keep them out of the debauched French Quarter. There are some things that THEY can’t UNsee. Head uptown
and watch the parades like all the locals do with their kids. Plus, they will LOVE being in a ladder seat! And it’s a great way to keep them contained, FYI. DYI parade ladder- click here. The only major downside is really that bathroom facilities can be tricky. Your best bet: set up your crew near a restaurant or store that’s selling bathroom privileges (yes, this is a thing, and yes, it’s absolutely worth the $5 or whatever for unlimited bathroom runs). If you’re from out of state, make your kids a paperboard sign that says so — riders love to shower out-of-towners with throws, so play it up! If it’s your birthday, say so!
5- Don’t Run Into the Street During a Parade . This should be common sense, but in the times of eating Tide Pods, I just have to say it. Don’t “run in real quick” to pick up a cool throw that landed on the ground, just don’t go there. Floats are huge and visibility is limited for drivers. You don’t want to get run over by one. That would ruin everyone’s buzz.
6-Don’t Get Drunk and Obnoxious. “Wait, but isn’t that the whole point of Mardi Gras?” Well, kind of, yeah. It is a final chance for shenanigans and hijinks before the 47-day long Lenten season, so yes, getting your ya-yas out is part of the fun. (You really don’t have to do that either!!!) #stayclassy But, there’s drunk and then there’s druuuuunk. And extreme examples of the latter will quickly send you to the druuuuunk tank at Central Lockup. NOPD don’t play. And again, would ruin everyone’s buzz. #DontGetDruuuuunk
7- Don’t Spend Your Whole Time in the Quarter. Spend some time in the Quarter if it appeals, but do consider heading Uptown or out to the Marigny to see Mardi Gras the way Nola locals & Louisiana residents do it, instead of just spending your whole day with drunken tourists.
8-Don’t Fall for the Scams From the old “betcha I can tell you where you got dem shoes” guys to Three Card Monte throwers. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Do not engage. Easy enough. Another scam to avoid, is hyper-inflated taxi pricing. There’s no central dispatch, just a million or so smaller companies, hyper inflated during big events. You should be fine, just negotiate fees before you even get in the cab. Suggest; UBER or Lyft. Or if you aren’t going to far, but don’t want to walk…PediCab!!! Super fun, and you get to see some of the city while you get to your destination. IF you have a group, PediCab races are fun. I’m not really sure if the drivers like it….in fact they may hate it. (Second thought, scratch the Pedicab race unless it comes with a large TIP for them)
9-If you miss a doubloon thrown from a float, never reach down to pick it up. Always put your foot on it. If you go with your hand, you’re either too late or you’ll get your fingers stepped on. (You will only make that mistake once.)
10- Check out some REAL local places. For jazz music, Uber over to Frenchman Street. Bourbon Street does have clubs with bands but it’s mostly rock or blues. If you are into rock, Feb 5-8, 11, 13-15 – “Radio Active” will be at Krazy Korner on corner of Bourbon and St. Peter. One of the singers is a friend from high school. The Funky Pirate or 30°/-90° are both fun. Kermit Ruffins; to hear him play the trumpet is a treat beyond treats! I heard him years ago at the Little Gem Saloon in Nola and hate that he will be up north during carnival. But, put him on your TO HEAR list.
11- EAT, eat, and EAT. Yes, Nola is known for Carnival and the French Quarter. But, Carnival season only lasts from King’s Day (Epiphany) until Midnight on Fat Tuesday. Year round, in Nola, and all of Louisiana, we are known for GREAT FOOD! Adolfo’s Italian Restaurant on Frenchman is SO good! We ate there last year, and OMGeeez. Amazing. You will pass up the door if you blink walking by. So, pay attention. A cool restaurant with its own Vodka & Gin distillery is Lula Restaurant Distillery. It’s on St. Charles, so it may be a little tricky to get to during a parade, but they kept the original ceilings and walls. (it used to part of an old warehouse/furniture store.) Super cool, has a patio out front, bar, and good food. La Petite Grocery–I already have my reservations made here for my stay during Carnival! Guys, stay away from the ”Chains restaurants”, find local, hole in the walls, get on Yelp, Urban Spoon and read. Ask a local. I can not STAND to hear someone tell me that they went out-of-town and ate at a place that pays franchise fees. Eat local.
Here are some of my other “good eat” suggestions around town. FYI-French Quarter will be SLAMMED with tourists for meals, brunch, etc. Be a rebel, venture out of the French Quarter ‘box’ and experience the city!
- Ruby Slipper-4 locations, pick the one that is closest to you.
- Clover Grill– Quarter (great late night or brunch)
- Johnny Sanchez-Central Bus Dist.(Tacos to die for! YELLOW TAIL CEVICHE, mouth watering. An Aaron Sanchez restaurant)
- Cochon– CBD, La Boca- Uptown (amazing steaks)
- Mr B’s across from Hotel Montelone (dress code & I just love the atmosphere & Ronald Regan’s booth)
- Restaurant R’evolution– Quarter (sooo good and amazing wine list),
- Vyoone’s-Warehouse Dist.
- Brunch-Atchafalaya Restaurant-Irish Channel
- Maypop Restaurant– Warehouse Dist.
- Elizabeth’s Resturant-Marigny/East Bank. This brunch will fill you up ALL day. Hole in the wall, and if you aren’t familiar with the area, I would Uber. Worth the trip.
Safety patrol time. I wouldn’t be doing my mom job, if I didn’t give some safety tips. Men; wallets in front pockets. Ladies, cross body bags…don’t travel with your big ole’ purse that is easy for someone to slip their hand into. Pick pocketing is huge during carnival…don’t be a statistic. Leave that big diamond ring home too. You don’t have anyone to impress on St. Charles Ave. They look for people wearing flashy items or holding a great deal of cash and target these people later.
And stay on the main drags. Uber, Taxi, Lyft where you need to go, especially if it is getting late, don’t travel alone…don’t be one of those YouTube videos “what not to do in NOLA”. Never walk to your hotel if it’s more than a few blocks away, or if the route to get there goes through dark or deserted areas. Nola is a BIG city with BIG city crime. Yes, it is fun, but be aware of your surroundings. Follow the crowd. Don’t think you will avoid traffic by using side streets you know nothing about. Don’t venture off the main roads either on foot or by car. There IS safety in numbers so stick with the crowd. And don’t be a dumb a$$ and drive after you have been drinking. Just Uber. Not worth it.
Do NOT leave anything of value in a parked car, van, truck, or RV. If your license plate says “Michigan”, you can be sure a thief knows you are traveling with lots of goodies AND that you will be away from your car plenty long enough for them to make off with all of it! #BuffetForThiefs
FINAL TIP in my Guide…..See everything you can, make some fabulous memories, and remember to scream… “Throw me something, Mister!” or….”Sister!”
Next week I will be loading up to head down to NOLA for Mardi Gras, so stay tuned!