Mardi Gras; we’ve all heard about it and seen the infamous photos of beads, booze, and Bourbon Street (along with other things that start with the letter “B”). But is the real Mardi Gras, the Mardi Gras the way it’s celebrated by the locals, anything like what we’ve seen? In short, not really.
Yes, Bourbon Street is a thing, and yes, it’s as crazy as you see in the photos, but the reality is most of the people who go to Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras are tourists. Mardi Gras, the way it’s celebrated by locals, is a weeks-long celebration of parades, costumes, and food. In reality, “carnival” as it’s called by many locals is actually very family-friendly.
According to ABC, Mardi Gras is the season of glitter, feathers, sequins, and all things shiny and colorful. Rather than the rowdy time of drinking and debauchery that’s shown on TV, for locals Mardi Gras is more about creativity and personal expression through art.
The world-famous Mardi Gras parades are created by krewes, and most of the parade routes are through the New Orleans Garden District or the French Quarter. Krewes are groups of people who prepare displays, floats, and performance routines for the parades that take place leading up to and on Fat Tuesday. Most of them prepare for Mardi Gras year round, and spots on many of the “krewes” are very coveted in the New Orleans scene.
A reporter for CBS Local wrote about his experiences at Mardi Gras, and apparently, acquiring beads is a very real thing, but having to expose yourself for them is largely unnecessary. If you plan to check out some of the Mardi Gras parades (which you should), krewe members throw beads and other little gifts into the crowd. No flashing necessary, but apparently it’s a cultural faux pas to pick up the beads once they’ve fallen to the ground, so you’ll need to be good at catching them.
Reporter Brian Cullen went to New Orleans to experience “carnival” firsthand, and this is what he had to say about it.
“There’s an entire code and culture to this holiday that you’d never know if you just went by TV shows and movies. Quite the contrary. Mardi Gras is (or “Carnival”), in fact, nothing at all like you’d expect.”
He later added, “Here’s what happens during Mardi Gras: you watch parades. Two in a row, usually. If it’s during the day time, then you head home, and rest up (or, keep drinking. Your call.) Then you come back out for the evening parades. And that’s it.”
Don’t get it confused, though. Mardi Gras is far from boring. It’s a huge party infused with culture, fantastic food, and eye-catching costumes and displays. And yes, if you want to get crazy and hang out with drunk frat boys, you can head to Bourbon Street to get your fill of that.
Go New Orleans describes Mardi Gras as “the biggest free party on earth” where people go to “eat, drink and be merry.” Although Mardi Gras falls on a different day each year (it’s always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), Carnival Season goes from the beginning of January until Fat Tuesday. To take advantage of the biggest parties and the best parades, plan your Mardi Gras trip to include the weekend before Fat Tuesday.
Whether you’re headed to Mardi Gras on a family trip or as major party with all your single friends, carnival has a little something for everyone and Bourbon Street is entirely optional. Have fun!
[Photo credits: Getty Images/Daniel Grill, Jim McKinley, Denis Tagney Jr]