Fat Tuesday falls on February 21 this Carnival Season, but festivities officially begin on January 6 with the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. Tradition states that Mardi Gras always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday, and with NOLA being a predominately Catholic town, New Orleanians party to the max prior to the more somber, religious time of Lent. So put on your Mardi Gras beads, scope out the parade route, grab everything you own that is purple, green and gold and check out our Mardi Gras 101 guide below to help you prepare for Carnival. For a complete parade schedule, visit www.mardigrasguide.com/calendar/.
Purple, Green and Gold
Throughout the celebration, the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold can be seen throughout the city. Flags donning the colors hang from French Quarter balconies, oak trees are draped with leftover beads and parade-goers' general choice of garb for the season are hues of the traditional Mardi Gras tones. Purple, green and gold officially became the colors of Carnival back in 1872 when Alexis Romanov, Grand Duke of Russia, visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras. In the Duke's honor, the men of Rex adopted the Romanov family colors purple, green and gold, representing justice, fidelity and power.
The Cake of Kings
King cakes came to New Orleans with the French, who substituted a tiny baby Jesus doll in place of the medieval bean. The cakes began as round, custard-filled pastries decorated with crowns. King Cakes remain extremely popular throughout the City during the Carnival Season and are often compared to a coffee cake, drizzled in icing and decorated with sugar dyed the traditional purple, green and gold. For decades, the king cake has set off a round of parties among New Orleans crowds. Whoever gets the baby or the bean at the first party had to give a king cake party the following weekend.
Family Friendly Mardi Gras
Although a time of revelry, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is routinely celebrated with the entire family. Many local families come together on the Avenue and set up chairs, ladders, ice chests and tents for the parades. Between parades, cousins play impromptu games of tag or football while adults grill or relax with their relatives and friends. Ladders are hand painted purple, green and gold and a special kids bench is attached to the top so the little ones can catch their own throws.
Local families also take part in the tradition of costuming. Some families and groups of friends, as large as fifty people, will dress up as a single theme. Costumes range from homemade to ornate and can be focused on anything from local political events, pop culture or traditional costume favorites.
Mardi Gras at a Glance: