Posted by: Waheeda Harris | February 16, 2010

Try it – Mardi Gras, New Orleans

You’ve heard the stories, seen the salacious photos and have heard from a friend of a friend about Mardi Gras. Do people really do THAT for plastic beads? Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, is the last day of sin before the beginning of Lent.

It’s been celebrated in the city known as The Big Easy for years. But unlike its lewd reputation, Mardi Gras is fun for all ages. It’s not restricted to adults, but is a city-wide celebration, from babies to grandparents.

Although Mardi Gras is the focus, its the culmination of several days of parades. The city of New Orleans hosts over 30 parades in different parishes from Friday February 5 until today, with each parade hosted by a krewe – a group of members who put together the theme, the floats, their costumes and choose their throws for the parade. Today, the big krewes parade: Zulu, Rex and Crescent City, from Uptown NOLA and ending at the French Quarter.

Throw me something is the refrain called out by parade-goers – on Mardi Gras day, everyone is in costume, and parade-goers call out to the krewe members to attract attention for throws – beads, candies, stuffed animals, toys, and the ultimate throw to receive – a dubloon.

Families will set up in an area, with Mardi Gras ladders for the kids, so they can see from above, coolers filled with drinks and snacks, and for the weekends, grills fired up with tasty eats. Unlike the territorial stance many people take up at a parade, Mardi Gras is friendly and social, with everyone celebrating like a giant family.

I got to experience Mardi Gras for the first time three years ago with my close friends; our group was six adults and three kids. We went to several parades, met lots of people, heard plenty of great music and ate our fill of Cajun, Creole and southern food. We had a king cake and found the baby and celebrated the Mardi Gras season.

We all dressed in costumes on Mardi Gras day, rolling through the day as a group from 8am until 8pm. We saw superheroes, cinematic stars, politicians and people who were just plain crazy. We caught beads, toys, souvenirs and dubloons and saw some things we probably shouldn’t have.

Parade to parade, wandering the streets of the French Quarter and Frenchman Street, seeing the Mardi Gras Indians and ending with dinner at The Praline Connection, we laughed, we screamed, we cried. It was memorable and unforgettable, and one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.

And for those who say they should have gone before Hurricane Katrina – go now. New Orleans is celebrating, whenever you show up.

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