In New Orleans, a town famous for its French Quarter and Bourbon Street, for hot Cajun and Creole cuisine and hotter jazz, one event surpasses them all as the city’s signature piece: Mardi Gras. It’s a season of revelry and romance, madness and music, parades and parties, comic costuming in the streets and grandiose private masquerade balls, even a Mystic Krewe of Barkus dog parade. Mardi Gras is a time when the gaudy and the gorgeous come together for one gigantic blowout. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Mardi Gras, however, is its connection to religion.
Carnival, loosely translated from Latin as “farewell to flesh,” is the season of merriment that starts in New Orleans each year on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night feast of the Epiphany, the day the three kings visited the Christ child. Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is the climax of the season before the penitential season of Lent. The date of Mardi Gras occurs 46 days before Easter and can fall as early as Feb. 3 or as late as March 9.
During the 12 days preceding Mardi Gras, more than 60 parades and hundreds of private parties, dances and masked balls are scheduled in the metro area. Fat Tuesday is a legal holiday in New Orleans, a day when half the town turns out in costume to watch the other half parade. Then, promptly at midnight, the party is over as Ash Wednesday ushers in the austerities of Lent.
Mardi Gras for Families: What kid wouldn’t love Mardi Gras? Much of the festival seems made for children, with its floats derived from the depths of the imagination, costumes and masks, colors and joyous music abounding throughout the city. And, most important, the beads, doubloons and other treats thrown to the crowds from the floats are a child’s delight.
Uptown is the best location for families to use as their base during Mardi Gras. While there is no lack of excitement, the location is calmer than the celebrations in the downtown area. St. Charles Avenue, a great spot for families to settle before the parades begin, becomes one long block party as families set up elaborate camps with picnics and barbecues.