The Celebration season, which comes right before the season of Lent, is celebrated all over the world: every continent and a number of countries have some form of celebration, with different traditions and customs. Some countries celebrate Celebration season with a direct connection to the Catholic church, and others, like the United States, recognize its Catholic roots but celebrate it in a mostly non-religious way. One of the most well-known Celebration season holidays is Mardi Gras, also called “Fat Tuesday” in other cultures, and is the one Celebration season tradition consistently celebrated in the United States. In the United States, there are two main Mardi Gras celebrations: one in New Orleans, and one in St. Louis. New Orleans is by far the most popular, drawing in millions of people from all across the globe with their festive parades, historical krewes, beautiful balls, and incredible live music and food. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is decadent, festive, and beautiful.
Mardi Gras parades feature floats manned by “krewes”, which are groups that can be anything from charitable organizations to jazz clubs. The krewes are responsible for designing and manning their float, which can be decorated in any way: some floats have political messages on them, some have cartoons about local events and issues in the community, some have homages to sports teams and sports controversies, some pay homage to minority communities such as African-Americans, Latinos, or immigrants, and some are purely artistic, with simple clown faces and swaths of purple, gold, and green.
The colors you’ll most often see at New Orleans Mardi Gras are purple, gold, and green, which were established in 1892 by Carnival King Rex during the one of the first Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. The colors symbolize different values that were to be honored and upheld during the celebration: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.
The krewes are manned by members of the organization, charity, or business they represent, and usually feature live musicians as well. Some of the more prominent krewes (called “super krewes”) such as Bacchus, Endymion, and Orpheus, feature celebrity hosts. Celebrities that have ridden with these super krewes in the past include Dolly Parton, Jackie Gleason, John Goodman, Dennis Quaid, Wayne Newton, Kirk Douglas, Harry Connick Jr., Bob Hope, and the Beach Boys. The krewes will throw goodies out into the crowd: most popular are the Mardi Gras beads, which can be everything from cheap plastic to expensive glass depending on the float. They have also thrown out cups, candy, and other trinkets to the crowds who await them below during the parade.
Mardi Gras balls are a beautiful tradition from the earliest days of Celebration season in the Southeast United States. In New Orleans, there are a number of Mardi Gras balls that vary in exclusivity and formality, the most formal of which being the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball, and the least formal including balls hosted by companies that are general admission. The more exclusive balls are invite-only, and are key social events for members of the New Orleans elite. Debutantes, women who are transitioning into becoming candidates for marriage, are often displayed for the first time at Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, but New Orleans has a special United States flavor that is especially unique.