Mardi Gras is a part of a bigger tradition called the Celebration season, which occurs just before Lent, the fasting season. These traditions are present all over the world: some are Catholic, some have more pagan or nonreligious connotations, and every country and city celebrates Mardi Gras a little differently. Even though the celebration of Mardi Gras in the United States is not as prevalent as South American or European countries, with only a handful of cities that throw Mardi Gras parades and celebrations, the two that do—St. Louis, Missouri; and New Orleans, Louisiana—definitely go all out to celebrate the popular holiday. While Mardi Gras in New Orleans is definitely the most well-known and popular, Mardi Gras celebrations and parades in St. Louis have their own exciting, unique traditions.
Krewes and Parades
Like the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Mardi Gras in St. Louis features multiple parades (hosted by “krewes”, who are usually charity organizations that fund and plan the parades). For 2016, the Mardi Gras celebration in St. Louis featured a Grand Parade, which is one of the Midwest’s largest Mardi Gras parades, and is definitely the focal point of Mardi Gras in St. Louis. Hundreds of krewes, both old and new, are entered into the Grand Parade, and drive by on creative floats. The krewes are known to throw out beads, candy, cups, and other Mardi Gras trinkets, like the parades in New Orleans.
One of the most unique aspects of the St. Louis Mardi Gras celebrations is their dog participation. The St. Louis Mardi Gras features both a Pet Parade and a Weiner Dog Derby, both of which are held on the same day as the Grand Parade. The Pet Parade allows owners and their pets (dogs, cats, horses, and even some farm animals have entered) in full Mardi Gras regalia, with purple, green, and gold beads, hats, and masks. Over 70,000 paraders attended last year, parading through the historic neighborhood of Soulard.
The Weiner Dog Derby is one of the most unique and adorable parts of the St. Louis Mardi Gras festivities, and is held at the “Wiener Stadium” at Rudy Commons. The parade brings Dachshunds and their owners from all over the country, and features three different races: Cocktail Weenies, Ballpark Franks, and Hot Dogs, which vary by size and age of the dogs. The races take place in a series of heats, leading up to the final Dash of Champions for each age category. The dogs usually race sporting Mardi Gras attire, and the winners are given Mardi Gras themed dog treats and held in honor for the rest of the Mardi Gras celebration.
The St. Louis Mardi Gras celebrations also feature balls as well as parades, similar to the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. The most popular and most exclusive one is the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball, which runs for $150 per ticket and includes food, dancing, cocktails, live music and entertainment, and is hosted by Mayor Francis Slay and the Mardi Gras Foundation. The Ball usually takes place in the Rotunda of St. Louis City Hall, and guests arrive in black tie attire, with beautiful evening gowns of purple, green, and gold (the colors of Mardi Gras) and will usually wear masks, an homage to the celebration’s French roots.