“Let the good times roll!” (That’s what the title translates to.) Living in a place other than New Orleans I have found that most non-natives think of Mardi Gras simply as a giant street party promoting debauchery, nudity, and falling-down drunkenness while in a very confined section of the city, that is exactly what happens. But there is another face to the “World’s Largest Party” and it is surprisingly family-friendly.
When most of the uninitiated hear of Mardi Gras they automatically think of Bourbon Street and letting it all hang out, whatever “it” may be. While it is very true that a certain form of wildlife habitually haunts the French Quarter at that location, Bourbon Street is but a small part of The Quarter and an even more infinitesimal fragment of New Orleans and Carnival. Flashing for beads is not a tradition, only a fad started by some overly enthusiastic college-age tourists that had misjudged the amount of adult beverages they could intelligently consume. The season is, and always has been, for families.
Mardi Gras is not just a single parade. Mardi Gras is the day, Fat Tuesday. Carnival is the period and officially starts on January 6th, Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. My family usually tries to arrive in time for the weekend leading up to Mardi Gras, the final day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and the last big hurrah before forty days of self-depravation culminating in Easter Sunday. We try to catch Endymion on Saturday, Bacchus on Sunday and then on Tuesday cap off our parade-going saga in Gretna on the West Bank enjoying the Grela parade, which we watch from the front yard of a relative with crawfish boiling in the back and the parade passing right in front of the house.
But those are not our only options. There are numerous parades and events in every small town and community across South Louisiana. It’s such a big event that the schools close for a week and Fat Tuesday is a State Holiday, declared by Governor Henry Warmoth in 1875 when he signed the “Mardi Gras Act”. All up and down the state are hundreds of smaller parades held in downtowns across the parishes any of which are suitable for a family fun day. No invitations needed. Just round up your brood and make sure to get to the parade route early enough to secure an advantageous spot to catch the most “throws”: the beads, cups, medallions, and small toys that float riders toss to the enthusiastic crowds.
Mardi Gras. It’s not just for delinquents, though it will not be hard to find some if you look long enough. Instead it’s about family and coming together. A time when entire neighborhoods gather to enjoy great food, good company, and to catch a throw or two. And just so you know: Beads are worn only after coming from a parade during Carnival. Wearing them any other time definitely stamps you as a tourist.
© 2014 G. Scott Brinkley. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.