Do You Speak New Orleans? A Virtual Mardi Gras Guide from a New Orleans Native

What? Virtual Mardi Gras? Yes, you read that correctly. Mardi Gras is cancelled this year, but creative locals are figuring out a way to not only still enjoy Mardi Gras but share it with anyone interested in tuning in. 

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras translates to “Fat Tuesday”. It is the day before Ash Wednesday and the time to let it all out before giving something up for lent. It dates back to the early 1700s in both Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans. The earliest krewes or secret social societies held masquerade balls, but carriage parades with “throws” or trinkets tossed to crowds didn’t pop up until the 1800s. The tradition persists with more than 100 krewes, some with and some without parades. Krewes have imposed sanctions on who can be a member. Many of these rules have changed and are more inclusive to represent everyone who calls New Orleans home.

Mardi Gras is not just one day. It begins weeks in advance with numerous parades throughout the city and neighboring suburbs and parishes. Mardi Gras transforms the city into an eating, celebrating, fun loving machine with balls, neighborhood parties, work parties, school parties, kids’ sports parties and the list goes on. If there’s more than 3 people in a room, you suddenly have a party and somehow Abita beer, a king cake, and tons of seafood shows up. You even have to be savvy when leaving your house and check parade routes to avoid traffic. Stores might close early to go to a parade. Do you feel the infusion of Europe into this city? It’s there – the architecture, the attitude, the way of living, and the deeply rooted history that lives. 

Is Mardi Gras for kids?

Yeah it is! Of course there is debauchery. Most people have experienced it or seen photos of Bourbon Street. Don’t worry, it spills beyond just one road. If you’re looking for it, it’s not hard to find, but to compare New Orleans to Bourbon Street is like relating Amsterdam to the Red Light District. There’s so much more there! Mardi Gras is a time for celebration and it comes in all shapes and sizes – from shocking to tame. Family fun and family parties are there and anyone standing nearby becomes family and has a good time. 

King Cake

Most kids and adults look forward to King cake. It’s a cinnamon brioche with different fillings or frostings topped with purple, green and gold sugar. In New Orleans, there’s a plastic baby inside to signal who buys the next King cake. Warning: chew delicately. Debates continue on which local bakery makes the best. I wouldn’t enter into this until you’ve tried them all.

Parade ladders are also a hit with kids – get them elevated above the crowd and avoid a stampede injury. It’s what it sounds like… a ladder with a wooden box at the top for kids to sit in while they yell, “Throw me something!” Endless beads and trinkets rain down from the double decker floats pulled by trucks or tractors. Each krewe has an iconic throw: Muses’ glitter shoes, Zulu’s coconuts, Nyx’s purses, Carrollton’s shrimp boots and on and on. Parades are also good for teaching hand-eye coordination. You don’t get hit more than once!

Family costumes are fun too. Most people who live in New Orleans are no stranger to creativity. The turnout is impressive. And if families don’t wear costumes, you know they’ll all be in matching embroidered shirts. It’s easier to find the kids. 

So, what child doesn’t want toys, costumes, cake and a whole lot of endless yelling while enjoying warm, sunny weather? 

Where do you tune in?

Nola.com and Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World are sponsoring a livestream, re-envisioned Mardi Gras directly to you: “Mardi Gras for All Y’ALL”. You can find it on YouTube and Facebook live via Nola.com and theadvocate.com on Feb 12, 13, and 14 for FREE. They have promised a local experience with celebrity interviews, musicians and all things Mardi Gras. Maybe even a tour of the homes transformed into floats by the Krewe of Red Beans or a drive through City Park who’s managers are brewing plans to set up a parade in reverse where the crowd moves through in cars. 

So, what are you waiting for? Make (or overnight ship) a king cake to your home, round up your social bubble and enjoy the reinvention of all things New Orleans during one of the biggest celebrations in the world… or at least hopefully it will be again next year!

Lyndsey was born and raised in New Orleans which instilled a deep passion for architecture, history, and FOOD. She and her husband James are proud graduates of UW-Madison. Go Badgers! They live in the Madison area with their 3 active children. Lyndsey is a freelance writer and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. When not working, she can be found running her kids around to swimming, ballet, basketball, and skiing. They all love new adventures, travel, cooking, being outdoors, reading, biking, and trying to keep up with their new puppy.

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