If you haven't been to Mardi Gras—parties lasting approximately a month in honor of Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent—you may want to treat yourself to this colorful tradition filled with fun, unforgettable parades, balls, and delicacies.
You may have fun trying the special foods the event is known for, like the king cake decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. The finder of the baby king inside the dessert brings the next cake or throws a party, keeping the festivities going. Also important to Mardi Gras are Creole and Cajun dishes like jambalaya (meat, rice, vegetables, and spices), gumbo (a stew served over rice), and red beans and rice.
Parades are a huge part of the festivities; floats pass by with riders in elaborate costumes. In New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras has been enjoyed since 1699; the first parade took place in 1857. Currently hundreds of clubs known as krewes host grand balls and many parades in the city.
You'll need to be invited to most balls, but anyone can attend the parades. Watching from St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, you'll also be able to take in the sights of mansions and large oak trees. The costumed float riders throw prizes from purses to toys shoes to the crowds. Clowns, marching groups, and others dressed up for fun walk along the street as marching bands play.
Some parades have been around many years, while others are newer. There are some consisting of only women. Those known as super-krewes are famous for their expertly-designed floats, moves, and costumes, such as Endymion, Bacchus, and Orpheus.
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Krewe of Endymion
The all-male Endymion started in 1967 and is consistently the largest krewe you'll see at Mardi Gras. This Mid-City super-krewe always rides the Saturday before Mardi Gras, and runs to (and through) the Superdome, site of the Endymion Extravaganza.
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Krewe of Bacchus
The Krewe of Bacchus is a super-krewe which came together in 1968. They roll on the Super Sunday before Mardi Gras, boasting the biggest floats in history. The parade winds its way around New Orleans before ending at a party in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
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Krewe of Orpheus
Orpheus is the super-krewe founded in 1994 by Harry Connick Jr. and other friends with a musical background. The Leviathan float this krewe featured utilized fiber optic lighting before any others. They parade on Lundi Gras, the night before Mardi Gras Day, and tickets to the Orpheuscapade after party are available to the public.
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Krewe of Proteus
Founded in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus is the second oldest group to parade in Mardi Gras. The elaborate processions of Proteus can be seen on Lundi Gras. Though the King of Proteus is never revealed to the public, you'll recognize this krewe by its giant seashell float.
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Krewe of Muses
Krewe of Muses, an all-women club founded in 2000, has a giant shoe float instead of a Queen's float and moves about the Thursday preceding Mardi Gras. The diverse group runs community outreach programs in which children and local artists design the krewe's costumes and floats.
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Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club
The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a mostly African- American carnival organization founded in 1916, parades on Mardi Gras morning with Mr. Big Stuff, the Ambassador, and other great characters. The krewe is known for throwing painted coconuts to the crowds.
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Le Krewe D'Etat
Le Krewe D'Etat is a favorite since 1996 that rolls on the Friday before Mardi Gras. The groups aim is to revive the satirical style that was a part of the event's tradition, and its name means “Live to Ride, Ride to Live.” Each year's theme is kept secret until parade day, when members pass out D'Etat Gazette, which has descriptions of the floats and other krewe information and images.