For this special Travel Tuesday “Winter in the South” post we only have one place that makes sense. Because today is Fat Tuesday or as it is better known Mardi Gras. A holiday that is practically synonymous with New Orleans.
Mardi Gras refers to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. But for most Americans we basically know it as the holiday where you throw beads at women in a big parade on Bourbon Street. But it is so much more than that.
New Orleans dubs Festival Capital of the World and they have a strong claim festival from unique food, music and multicultural heritage all year-long. But everyone focuses on Mardi Gras. So let’s get into it. The first Mardi Gras parade held in New Orleans is recorded to have taken place in 1837. The tradition in New Orleans expanded to the point that it became synonymous with the city and and embraced by residents of New Orleans beyond those of French or Catholic heritage. Mardi Gras celebrations are part of the basis of the slogan, Laissez les bons temps rouler, (Let the good times roll). As we mentioned earlier, the carnival season technically starts after Epiphany. On Mardi Gras Day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last parades of the season wrap up and the celebrations come to a close with the Meeting of the Courts (known locally as the Rex Ball). Some of the traditions from Bouef Gras (the last beef consumed before the Lenten season) to the purple, green and gold colors are associated with The Rex Organization. Most of what Americans associated with Mardi Gras is thanks to the Rex Organization and its parade.
It’s important to keep in mind that New Orleans is a very diverse city and well the Rex Organization is awfully white. Many other residents participate in different parades and celebrations. The Mardi Gras Indians trace their roots back to a time when American Indians helped shield runaway slaves. They are among the most colorful and mysterious parts of New Orleans Mardi Gras culture with early African Americans developing their own way of celebrating by organizing Mardi Gras Indian tribes as krewes. There are numerous krewes and parades including the Krewe of Zulu (known for its interesting history and “golden nugget” (coconut) parade throws) the aforementioned Mardi Gras Indians (often considered “Black Mardi Gras”), Krewe of Bacchus and Krewe of Endymion. So just know it isn’t all about Rex!